So how does use of restraint affect a person with a sensory disorder? It’s actually very intense. First you have to understand that the senses of a person with this disorder (touch, taste, etc) are not working properly and are likely turned up “too high” on that person. Various sensations are amplified and hard to live with. This can effectively “overload” the brain at times, hence the term: sensory overload.
Try to imagine, every little sound turns into a series of echoing and crashing bombardments; slight sensations on your skin make it just crawl and make you shudder; light hurts your eyes, and there’s even a flavor or taste on the air that makes you just want to spit or gag. It’s not always all of these at the same time, heck, just one is sufficient. It can make you want to curl up in the fetal position and just scream. Intense is a good word for it and even that may not do it justice.
So take a look at a child in school or anywhere else who goes into a self damaging fit. That fit comes from all that intensity and sensory input that can’t be sorted or even slowed down. It causes total chaos in that poor kids head. It triggers fight or flight response and they may even resort to pounding their head against objects trying to funnel it all out. It creates an overload of stimulation and adrenalin. And remember, adrenalin also magnifies your senses. Once you get that much energy conflicting in such a small place, it has to go somewhere.
So you have no choice, you must hold your child or someone has to hold them to protect them from themselves. In this you take inherent risks of being hit or kicked, but it’s not out of malice. It’s out of sheer pain, rage and panic. That’s right, sensory overload HURTS. But what does that do? For a while, it only intensifies the effects of the overload. After all you are touching, and maybe even squeezing to hold on to the poor kid. You don’t mean to hurt him, and you’re just trying to protect him, but he escalates because no matter what you do, you still add to the sensory input for the time being.
No, that cannot be helped. All you can do is all you can do. You have to weigh the end results. Do you let them bash their head on the floor (they won’t be able to stop on their own until absolutely exhausted). Or, do you hold them and help them ride it out with minimal lasting damage? There really isn’t a choice there. You have to help your child and then teach them how to handle it themselves for when they get older. Soon I will write about how to establish a safety protocol to deal with sensory overload at home. One you may even be able to teach your kids.