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When Your Senses Get In the Way

July 11, 2011

Many of us with AD/HD also have to contend with something called Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder.  While it manifests differently in different people, it is basically where sensory inputs are translated or processed differently than they would be in those who don’t have the disorder.  As this is one of the AD/HD co-morbid conditions that I deal with, I can share a personal story that may help those without the condition to better understand the impacts that it can have.

While there are several areas where sensory processing seems to operate differently for me than for others, the one I notice the most is my sense of smell. I can smell things that no one else can smell, not because they don’t exist, but because they are too distant or faint.  I can walk into my house and tell you if there is water in the basement.  I could smell a propane leak inside my wall that it took the propane man a special instrument to pick-up.  And it is hell for me to walk through the commercial cleaning product aisle at the grocery store.

This one is the easiest to discuss because it is the one where I have an understanding of what it is like to smell normally and to smell as if I had spidey-senses!  You see, I used to smoke and as everyone knows, smoking dulls your sense of smell.  I never seem to have that problem and counted myself “lucky”.  However, once I quit smoking, I figured out that I was not actually immune to the smell-dulling effect, it was just dulling my super-sense of smell down to normal.

So, what does it feel like…or rather, smell like?  Let’s just say, some days I wish I carried small trial size deodorants in my purse to hand out to those whose hygiene is probably fine for others, but whose scent is simply overwhelming to me.  As previously mentioned, any concentration of chemicals, even if they are in their bottles, is simply overwhelming.  Imagine taking bleach, ammonia, weed killer, and paint thinner and filling a bucket with each.  Then put those buckets in a room with no airflow and leave them for a day.  Now go in that room.  That’s what it is like to walk into the cleaning aisle at Hannaford.  I have to cover my nose and mouth and try really hard not to breathe.  Most of the time, if we need something in that aisle, I make my husband go and get it.

This is a relatively benign example of sensory processing disorder.  I count myself lucky to have my spidey-sense as it found a propane leak in my house before anything catastrophic could happen and I can tell from across the kitchen if my children are fibbing about brushing their teeth.  It isn’t always pleasant, awful smells generally far outweigh pleasant smells and once in awhile it would be nice to just be able to wash the laundry once (it tends to smell strangely after only one wash without perfumed fabric softener).

But it is generally harmless and doesn’t often get in the way of my day.  Now imagine if your sensory problem was the opposite.  You couldn’t smell if the meat in your refrigerator was bad or if your cat hat used your backpack as a alternate to the litter box.  Or if your had hyper-sensitivity to tactile stimuli and that tag in the back of your shirt or the seam in the toes of your socks felt as if someone was constantly rubbing the back of your neck or your toes with a brillo pad.  Imagine how hard it would be to sit still and focus in class or why you might find yourself constantly fidgeting and taking your socks off or fussing with your shirt.  These are the tiny ways that sensory processing disorder can interfere with daily functioning and have a huge impact on your life.

There are several helpful articles about Sensory Processing Disorder and AD/HD available on the ADDitude magazine website.

For help in finding strategies to manage your AD/HD and/or sensory processing disorder, call me at (603)731-9071 or email me today for more information.

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