Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sensory Overload

Recently, I read an article on raising a blind child that talked about the sensory issues that blind children often have in various degrees.  I read this article just days after we were faced with the fact that the nursery at our church could no longer handle our “special” child.  Each Sunday, like clock work, 10-20 minutes after we have dropped Liam off in the nursery someone beeps us or finds us to let us know our child is crying inconsolably.  The issue was not with the amount of light in the room, but the amount of noise.  Children with visual disturbances are on high alert with their other senses, their hearing being the main way they can tell where mom, dad, or a familiar person is located and also how they navigate a room to find people and things that they want.  If the noise level is to chaotic for them to discern the individual sounds they begin to get overwhelmed and panic causing them to cry or react negatively in some way.  For Liam, he would be fine in our church nursery until there were five or so kids crying or squawking all at once, and then he would begin to cry until someone he recognized came to his aid.  As a mom, you do not want to sit and let your child cry the entire hour and a half that you are only two rooms away, so each week Brian and I take turns walking around the church with him while the other sits in on the service.  Some Sundays we are able to alternate with grandparents keeping him so that we can both go on to service but, needless to say, our Sundays are very hectic. When I found the article, which is from a parent of a child who is completely blind, I had to share it with our vision therapist.  It stated that children develop their other senses to compensate for the lack of vision and do not handle sensory overload very well.  He gave a few examples that matched Liam to a tee! I had not noticed until reading the article that Liam did not like for us to hold his hands for more than just a few seconds at a time.  (He typically shakes them loose from your grasp immediately unless he is sleepy.) This is because for blind children their hands are their eyes (just like their ears).  They spend a lot of time listening and feeling things out to explore their surroundings, which they cannot do if you are holding their hands or the room is very loud. It was like a light bulb came on! So we mentioned these things to Liam’s vision therapist at Pediatrics Plus to see if she could help with these things and she feels confident that she can do some sensory exercises with him to teach him to relax in these type situations and handle them better.  She said we may have to increase his time in therapy to more often than once a month but that is definitely a sacrifice we are willing to make.  At his first therapy session she said we will work on helping him find his body in proportion to where he is at in space and time (yes I know it sounded hokey to me too at first) so that he has better balance and grace in his movements. At first I was not sure how she would do any of this until I researched it on my own and it turns out that the reason blind children sometimes stomp or knock things over is because they do not know the distance to their feet or of their arms so they appear clumsy but they are truly not.  If we can teach Liam to be aware of where he is proportionally then hopefully he will not be as bad at depth perception or balance as they say he will. (If you are having trouble understanding this then try imagining the game where you put your forehead on a baseball bat and spin around then try walking afterwards… the world would be unsteady and feel unbalanced.  The idea behind the therapy is to teach Liam not to be either of these things by showing him how to time when his feet will hit the ground and how far it is from him to the cup sitting on the table, etc.) Some studies even suggest to teach them about space, such as from their head to the ceiling so they do not feel like they have to duck when entering a room, to hold them up above your head and let them touch the ceiling or doorframes so they can learn how far up it is, not how far up it looks to them. (Remember his depth perception makes him unable to tell how close or how far away/up something is such as stairs, steps, doorways, fans, etc.) Hopefully with lots of research between us and Liam’s vision therapist we will be able to find more helpful sensory activities to do with him to help with his tolerance of sensory overload. I am very anxious to see what ideas she will have for us from her research at his next session! I hope by the time Liam turns 1 (just a two months away now!) that we will be able to make it through an entire church service without interruption! We shall see!


  1. Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog!
    Have a nice day!

  2. Sounds similar to many of the sensory issues that go along with autism. I panic when there's too much noise around, I can't stand wearing certain textures of clothes (like jeans), flashing lights make me space out, I'm very clumsy, and I'm a picky eater. Most of my senses are hypersensitive, except for balance and proprioception which are hyposensitive. Learning this explained a lot about why I react to things the way I do.

    One of the best things for reducing hypersensitivity is to give the child control over the sensory input. For example, I used to strongly resist having my hair brushed. When I got old enough to brush my hair myself, I'd take several hours to do it because I brushed my hair extremely gently and slowly. But my parents kept urging me to hurry, and I'd go as fast as I could tolerate, and over several years I got to the point where I could brush my hair in an instant.