Thursday, January 2, 2014

Salvador Dali: A Classic Case of Sensory Processing Disorder Mimicking Craziness!

The artist Salvador Dali is as well known for his crazy, extreme behavior as for his surreal, dream-like paintings. But was his bizarre behavior eccentricity or supreme sensation seeking from low-responsiveness to sensation? If you understand the degree to which sensory processing drives human behavior, clearly the latter.  
"Behavior" says occupational therapist Patti Oetter, "is a reflection of the organization of the nervous system at that moment and under those conditions." In the case of Salvador Dali, his brain under-responded to sensory stimuli.  To engage in and make sense of the world required extreme sensory input.
We see this sensation seeking from early on. High strung and manic, Dali would throw temper tantrums that his mother found hard to quell.  In school, he would throw himself down a flight of stairs to get attention, indicating an extremely powerful need for tactile-proprioceptive input (deep pressure and heavy work into the joints and muscles).

On the day he was to meet his future wife Gala at the beach, he wanted to make a suitable impression. But bathing attire was too dull.  So Dali shaved his arms and mixed some laundry bluing with powder and died his armpits. He immediately started to sweat, causing the makeup to run. So he shaved again to make himself bleed, indicating low tactile/proprioceptive registration and a high pain tolerance. His armpits were now all bloody. He stuck a fiery-red geranium behind his ear, indicating a need for strong visual input. He then smeared goat excrement all over his body, indicating a need for extreme odors to perceive smells. Voila!  He was ready to meet Gala.

At the same time, Dali exhibited a terror of touch, indicating possible tactile defensiveness. His famous long oiled mustache is telling. Curved out to either side like bird wings, the hairs pulled his skin providing comforting pressure touch, but without touching his face and creating aversive tickling touch.

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