Although sensory processing disorder and autism spectrum disorders don’t always occur together, they frequently do. As someone whose brain has never processed sensory information in a normal manner, I can tell you that it can range from fun to weird to irritating to downright nauseating. It all depends on the type of input, how my brain perceives it, and what other stressors I’m dealing with at the time.
So, what is sensory processing disorder? Well, basically it’s when your brain has trouble integrating sensory input properly. This is why it’s sometimes referred to as sensory integration dysfunction. I once wrote an article on sensory integration issues, and I have yet to think of a better explanation than the one I used in it:
Simply put, it means the brain doesn’t process sensory input in a normal manner. It can cause under-sensitivity to stimuli, such as not feeling pain. It can cause extreme sensitivity to stimuli, such as finding a light touch painful. It can cause a person to taste something odd, such as coconut tasting like a brush fire smells.
Now, those of you who have never dealt with sensory issues are probably wondering, “What is it like?” To answer that, I’m going to share an excerpt from The Key to Charlotte, my inspirational romance that has an autistic heroine.
Pastor Ed walked over, his usual welcoming smile in place as he shook her hand. “Good morning, Charlotte. The church looks wonderful, as always.”
She withdrew her hand from his, resisting the urge to wipe it on her skirt to rid her skin of the feel of someone touching her, and signed “thank you.” Then it hit her. She hadn’t wanted to wipe away the feel of Zakaria touching her hand yesterday. What did that mean?
Confusion caused anxiety to form, and her defenses against sensory input failed. The noise of the people overwhelmed her, the numerous scents from soap and perfume threatened to suffocate her, and the lights burned into her brain like lasers. Unable to deal with the heavy assault on her nervous system, she walked away from the pastor and went to the basement.
More people were down there, finishing up cups of coffee while they talked, their voices echoing off the cement‐block walls. The lingering scent of coffee, the sticky sweet smell of doughnuts, and more soap and perfume filled the air, and Charlotte escaped into the hall that led to the janitorial closet, praying for a quiet place with no people and few scents so she could destress before she went into a meltdown. The uncontrollable crying might relieve stress and enable her to function, but it was exhausting. Plus, having others witness it was embarrassing. She didn’t know what she’d do if Zakaria saw her crying like that. Would he think she was a freak, or worse, reject her? She couldn’t bear the thought of losing him as a friend because of something she couldn’t control. She wanted him to see her as a woman, someone who was strong and capable—a person who could love.
The shrill voices of small children in the nursery surrounded her, making her already overloaded system threaten to break. She fought the emotions lurking just below the surface, knowing that if she started crying now, she wouldn’t stop until all of the environmental stress overloading her system had washed away with the tears.
She quickly climbed the other set of stairs, struggling to figure out where she could go to calm down enough to survive Sunday school. Although home would be quiet, her parents would worry if she left the church. No, she had to find somewhere inside the building. The restrooms were out because people would undoubtedly need to use them. The classrooms wouldn’t work, either, because everyone would be trickling in for Sunday school. Maybe the office?
Stepping into the hall, she spotted a couple of the women going into the office, talking and laughing. Her last hope of peace vanished, and she nearly lost her battle with the tears. She wrapped arms around her middle and rocked from side to side, fighting to hold herself together.
While sensory processing issues aren’t always this severe, it does give you a glimpse into what it’s like to live with sensory processing disorder. And I can assure you that even though Charlotte is a fictional character, the descriptions are accurate. After all, I based this scene on my own experiences.
If you want to learn more about sensory processing disorder, there is a ton of information online that a quick Google search will help you find. You can also check out my article “What are Sensory Integration Issues?” which provides a few links to informative websites.
If you’d like to read more of The Key to Charlotte and find out how an autistic woman finds and experiences romance, you can purchase a copy from Pelican Book Group, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, or other online retailers.