Tuesday, May 10, 2022

 

MANY NEUROTYPICALS HAVE SENSORY PROCESSING ISSUES

Sharon Heller, PhD

 

When Sigmund Freud, one of the most influential geniuses of the last century, was asked what he would like to have changed in his life, he replied, ironically, “I wished I had been given a better brain.”

My wish would be for a more organized nervous system. Who wouldn’t wish that! The more balanced and organized the  nervous system, the steadier we are: on our feet; in our moods; in our thinking; in our life.

All behavior relies on the organization of the nervous system. As the brilliantly insightful occupational therapist Patti Oetter, my  mentor put it: “Behavior is a reflection of the organization of the nervous system at that moment and under those conditions.”

Those words, spoken to me over lunch one day in Los Angeles twenty years ago, widened the lens from which I viewed human behavior, a subject that, as a psychologist I know a bit about, and changed profoundly how I understand the impact of body on mind. I learned that how we interpret and respond to sensory information underlies all human behavior. Without knowing a person’s sensory world, you can’t understand their behavior

Our thoughts, actions, and feelings and how we express them—our behavior—begins with how the brain codes and processes sensory information. If we feel bored, we seek sensation; if we feel overwhelmed, we avoid sensation. Both states drive us and divert our attention away from what’s going on in the world. For this reason, behavior is not easily modified until sensory needs are met.

To understand why, let’s explore sensory integration.

SENSORY INTEGRATION

How our brain integrates and makes sense of incoming sensory information relies on how well our brain processes sensory information.

Let me explain.

To move the body effectively and to think clearly, the brain must organize and integrate the bombardment of sensation impacting us at any point in time: sensation from one’s own body—vestibular (sense of balance); proprioceptive (sense of body awareness); tactile (sense of touch); and sensation from the environment—sound, vision, smell, taste.

This process is called sensory integration (SI), the theory of which was first conceived in the 1970’s by occupational therapist A. Jean Ayres. SI forms the basis for how we make sense of the world.

Sounds straight forward. It’s not.

How well our brains interpret the sensory world varies, from those who see though a clear lens and glide through the world with ease, to those who see through a distorted lens and struggle with the slightest obstacle.

Well Organized Nervous System

If you have good sensory integration, you make sense of what is seen, heard, smelled, and felt and respond appropriately and adaptively. You easily block out irrelevant stimuli, neither overly seeking nor overly avoiding sensation, control impulses and persist in tasks, navigate space with ease and move as a compact presence in the world.

As your brain appraises sensation appropriately, you are sound in body and mind, alert and adaptive, functioning well and thriving. You maintain a comfortable steady state and regular body rhythms for sleep, rising, eating, eliminating. At the same time, a steady state allows the higher, thinking brain to function optimally and you feel competent, capable, motivated and in charge of destiny.

My friend Josie, whom I’ve known since grammar school is an example of great sensory integration. Smart, funny, competent, outgoing, even-tempered, a good athlete with great posture (this has importance for nervous system integrity), and a good listener, she was one of the popular girls, admired by all. Steady and stable, independent and self-contained still today, never having shown, to my knowledge addictive behavior or neurotic musings, she has, throughout life, enjoyed warm and loving relationships, a satisfying career, many friends and much joy.

Off Center

Unfortunately, few of us have that well-organized of a nervous system. Most of us have average SI. We may be a bit clumsy and uncoordinated; a bit distracted and spacey; a bit messy and disorganized; a bit reactive to noise and bright lights; a bit of a loner or a social nerd. In an article published in 2013 in Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, one research team led by Nava Levit-Binnun found 17 studies that reported sensory and motor abnormalities in healthy individuals.

A bit off center, we get by—with a few glitches. We call these glitches stupidity, anxiety, stress, depression, laziness, and so on, and the world generally agrees with our assessment.

For some of you reading this, such incidents ring a bell.

How have you coped with your limitations? You compensated. Said Patti Oetter: “The majority of us have escaped diagnosis but know our limitations well. We have learned strategies to capitalize on our strengths and cover or avoid those things most difficult.”

In other words, a good chunk of the “neurotypical” population has sensory processing issues!!

Excerpted from Yoga Bliss, How Sensory Input in Yoga Calms and Organizes the Nervous System. 

www.sharonheller.net. Email:info@sharonheller.net.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

 

Sensory Pleasure While Driving in the Car


Driving in your car can be an amazing opportunity for your sensory diet.

Auditory: Listen to the music that you need at that time to either perk you up or calm you down and sing along with it. Turn off the music and chant, or listen to the sound of raindrops or falling snow. Open the window and listen to nature’s sounds, especially if you are driving along the ocean.

Scent:  Infuse essential oil with a device that you plug into your cigarette lighter. Choose the oil you need to either perk you up or calm you down. If you’re lucky to be driving through an orange, cherry or apple grove in bloom, open up your window and inhale deeply.

Tactile:  Use a vibrating mat behind your back or a back massager. Massage parts of your body with wooden rollers. Open up your window to feel the warmth of the sun on your body or the refreshing cold of lightly falling snow. Stick your arm out the window and let the grounding surge of the wind against your skin perk you up for amazing body awareness. If you are drowsy, rub something with rough texture against your skin to perk you up.

Pressure:  Put weight on your lap.

Oral/motor: Drink cold drinks of peppermint tea or lemon water through a straw to alert you and especially if you are driving while drowsy. Also, chew gum or suck on a lemon or lime. Drink warm chamomile tea to calm you.

Proprioceptive:  Push into the steering wheel at a light. 

Vestibular:  Driving in your car naturally gives you vestibular input and especially on a bumpy road or going up or down hills.  

Copied from: Uptight & Off Center: How Sensory Processing Disorder Throws Adults Off Balance & How to Create Stability: Heller PhD, Sharon: 9780692544808: Books - Amazon

www.sharonheller.net

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

 

Stress of Living with Vibration Noise

I’ve been living in my two-bedroom, second floor condo at Kings Point in Delray Beach, FL since last August. It’s cozy, functional and, with many windows, refreshingly bright.

I enjoy especially the calming relaxation of lying on my zero-gravity chair on my screened-in balcony. Surrounded by pots of pink, yellow, and purple flowers and green plants, and silhouetted by a blanket of tall green trees as far as the eyes can see, my balcony view is a feist for the eyes. Blue jays and other birds hop from tree branch to tree branch, singing away, while the wind stirs the song of hanging chimes.

All changes as I walk into my house. Penetrating the walls, especially the bathrooms, kitchen and hallway is this horrifically disturbing vibration noise that sends my body into overdrive: my stomach tightens, my shoulders tense, my breathing accelerates, my heart pounds.

The noise comes from the overhead compressor on the roof from my downstairs neighbor’s AC unit.

This vibration noise is common when home, apartment, or condo A/C condenser units are installed on roofs, decks and upper floors. When the AC is operating, occupants of space adjacent to or below these units experience disturbing noise/vibration.

According to research, vibrations can cause several health-related issues, such as fatigue, headaches, stomach problems, among others. For this reason, many regulations aim at controlling the exposure of humans to vibrations. For instance, car manufacturers are required to reduce vibration levels to ensure the comfort of passengers and prevent health hazards.

Unfortunately, such regulations don’t exist for the AC condensers on the roofs of Kings Point. It’s up to individual unit owners to take measures to reduce the noise/vibration coming from their compressors.

The owner can purchase a compressor blanket made of sound-dampening material which can reduce compressor noise up to 65 percent. Available to fit popular brands, these easily-installed blankets simply wrap around the noisy single-stage compressor.

The owner can also install AirLoc Precut Pad Pack Neoprene pads under the corners of these units. With these, the structure-borne noise transferred to the support structure can be greatly reduced.

I remain hopeful that my downstairs neighbor will eventually take the steps to purchase what is necessary to alleviate the disturbing vibration noise. Until that happens, living in my home will continue to be stressful. What a pity. My home otherwise is my haven of equanimity.  

Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Too Loud, too Bright, too Fast, too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensoryprocessing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email info@sharonheller.net.

 

 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Body Awareness and God




Sarah is a deeply religious Christian who feels strongly connected to God.  This deeply felt connection has saved her from a life of depression and suicidal attempts as it keeps her connected to a higher power that she believes looks over her. 
Could sensory issues relate to the tendency to give oneself over to a higher source? I believe there might be a connection and specifically with people I call “languids.”
Languids
Languids are hypo-responsive to sensory stimulation, as they don’t process enough stimuli and consequently easily tune out the world. At the same time, they suffer low muscle tone and are lethargic and prone to depression.
Sarah is an example. Clumsy, she falls easily, doesn’t know right from left and is unable to cross the midline. She had great difficulty learning how to tie her shoes or cut a straight line, and never learned to dance, ride a bike, swim or do any sports at all. She did learn how to drive out of necessity but feels fearful behind the wheel as she constantly bumps into curbs and other cars, and she gets lost in a flash.
She has low muscle tone and finds it hard to get her body moving. Fleshy, she is an over-eater and finds it hard to maintain her weight.
Possessing low energy, she is lethargic and has suffered depression her whole life and has attempted suicide more than once.
Poor Body Awareness
Hyposensitivity, lethargy, low muscle tone and proneness to depression are all signs of poor body awareness, the inability to be aware of and in touch with one’s body.  
Body awareness gives us our place in space so we can feel our edges and know where our body ends and the world begins. This allows us to move in the world and be part of it, yet to have boundaries so we don’t lose self – to feel connected to the earth and to have roots, but also to have wings and be able to take flight.
Feeling this control of your body in space makes you feel a solid, strong presence on this planet that we inhabit and translates into emotional security and confidence. This physical sense of self lays the foundation for psychological self-awareness. 
Body Awareness and God
When you don’t feel connected to the earth, you tend to feel lost, floundering, anxious, and depressed. You turn inward to your imagination for solace and feel connected to the cosmos, whether through belief in God or a higher force.
In Sarah’s case, she turned to the “Lord” for solace and guidance and believed that everything that happens in her life was guided by “him.” When she gets depressed and suicidal, she prays and that helps jolt her out of her dark state.  
Could an association exist between being a languid and a desire to be off in the cosmos?  It’s possible. If you are uncoordinated and clumsy and always found it difficult to do the things most do automatically, like tying your shoe, riding a bike, dancing, writing out a story or cutting out a picture, it’s not much fun to be inside your body. What better place to be than in the cosmos where your body disappears?  In deep meditation or in deep prayer people may not even be aware of breathing.
Science and God
Science backs up a relationship between poor body awareness from hypo-responsiveness and low muscle tone, and belief in God.
The OAA or orientation association area of the brain orients you in physical space by drawing a sharp distinction between you and everything else. Orientation in space and time happens in the posterior superior parietal lobe, an area just behind the top of the head and is where our brain sorts “me” from the vast “not me” of the infinite universe. Basically it is your conscious sense of self and is dependent on receiving sensory input.
If you are hypo-responsive, easily turning off sensation and feeling ungrounded to the earth, like Sarah, you begin to lose self and feel a part of the larger cosmos or universe – in other words, the religious or spiritual experience.
And in fact science has found that inactivity in this area may play a part in depression, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and depersonalization, while damage to this area by trauma or stroke results in difficulty maneuvering in physical space.
Little wonder that numerous studies have found exercise to be more effective than antidepressants in controlling runaway depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and with longer lasting effects.
Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, TooTight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world and Uptight & Off Center, How sensoryprocessing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email info@sharonheller.net.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SPD & Rhythmicity


When we think about sensory processing disorder (SPD), we tend to think about someone who jumps when someone touches their shoulder, puts their hands over their ears when a siren whizzes by, and can’t be out in the sun without sunglasses.

But in truth, those with SPD experience chaos not just in reaction to sensory overstimulation but in many aspects of functioning. 

One is rhythmicity. 

Take my friend Samantha. 

She either eats too little or too much.

She sleeps all day or can’t fall asleep and walks around like a zombie.

Some days, she’s all over the place, her heart racing and her breathing rapid. Other days, she’s so lethargic, she can barely get the energy to take the dog out.

At times, she can’t get enough sex. At other times she goes for weeks without being in the mood.

What she rarely if ever seems to be is regulated, modulated, balanced.

Body Rhythms

Orchestrating all behavior are the body’s rhythms, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and brain waves. They exist within a circadian or 24-hour sleep/wake cycle, an inner clock that synchronizes body rhythms by the ebb and flow of light and dark. Our body temperature for instance, is higher by day and lower by night, while the right side of the body is warmer by day and the left side is warmer by night.

In an organized nervous system, rhythmicity is regular for the most part and behavior is modulated. 

But in those with under- or over-arousability, rhythmicity flows in extremes. Your behavior is unmodulated and everything is off key: movement, sleep, heart rate, respiration, temperature, appetite, sexual desire.

Sleep

Take sleep. If your system is under-reactive to sensation, you fall asleep in a wink:  without light, sound and movement there’s nothing to charge your system.

This is good. But you may also oversleep as a result and find it hard to get going in the morning and especially if you have low muscle tone. Not surprisingly, most on the low end of arousal are owls and don’t get going until late in the day. Such a late start probably affected how well you did in school and work performance as most jobs require morning alertness.

If you are sensory defensive, you are too wired to fall asleep. Once asleep, you easily awaken by noise, movement in the bed, odors, light pouring into the room or the sensation of your bedding or night clothes.  As a result, you don’t sleep deeply and awaken exhausted in the morning, even when you get enough sleep.

What’s the Answer?

What can you do to become more rhythmic? The answer of course is not straight forward.  There is no pill to make you regulated. 

Rather, you must avoid everything that throws you out of whack and feed your nervous system every day and throughout the day with organizing and modulating activities.  These include:

  • Movement and healing tactile sensations
  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Aromatherapy
  • Healing music
  • Light therapy
  • Non-allergenic, non-processed nutritional food, organic whenever possible


In other words, you must be committed to a lifestyle of healing and regeneration of your nervous system.  It may seem difficult at first and take much discipline. But in truth it is a life of supreme sensory pleasure!



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Even an Old Brain Can Change

If you have SPD, it’s easy to get discouraged. After all, there’s no pill you can take to make it go away.
Nevertheless by following sensorimotor interventions and mind-body techniques, like meditation and visualization, symptoms can be greatly reduced and in some cases eliminated so that your life no longer seems one of never ending left curves.
This will happen from neuroplasticity, meaning the brain’s ability to rewire itself.  And though neuroplasticity happens in leaps and bounds in the young developing brain, it amazingly continues throughout life. 
I suffered visual spatial processing problems my whole life, as well as slow auditory processing. As I was bright, I compensated well enough and problems were never picked up. Nevertheless, I felt dumb and my family thought I was dumb. 
In my youth, I took years of dancing, mostly jazz. In class, you learn a dance routine taught in sequential small sequences. By the end of the class, the students are joyfully dancing away, the steps learned and automatic.
My brain did not translate what the teacher’s feet were doing into my feet and I had great difficulty learning even a small sequence. By the end of the class, I was still struggling to figure it out and each step took effort. Needless to say, I never made it to Broadway.
At age 60, I became an avid painter and painted virtually daily for hours. Lacking formal training, I painted mostly from my imagination. This meant that it often took months to finally get a face to look like a face, as I continually reworked the shape, mouth, nose and eyes.
Six years after I started painting, I began Zumba classes. Amazingly, I picked up the steps immediately as the teacher demonstrated and danced away! No lag. No effort.
All the hours spent figuring out space on a small canvas had grown loads of brain highways that rewired the visual cortex in my brain and greatly improved my visual spatial processing. 
The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks proves false.
Granted, neuroplasticity doesn’t happen overnight. You must persist, persist and persist. And you must make sensory interventions and mind-body techniques your lifestyle … for the rest of your life. 
But things can get better.  The brain can change!




Friday, April 15, 2016

Walk Barefoot & Connect to the Earth's Frequencies

In the morning, I often take a barefoot walk along the grassy knoll behind my house as I joyfully pick the fruit of the season off the trees, such as avocados, mangos, loquats, mamey fruit, and indulge.
Why barefoot? Walking barefoot puts us in touch with the earth's frequencies.
Throughout history humans always walked barefoot until modern lifestyle necessitated wearing shoes. This has disconnected us from the Earth’s energy that vibrates at a specific frequency, known as the Schumann Resonance. 
All of life is composed of frequencies and vibrations and our bodies were designed to coincide with earth’s rhythms.
When our bare skin touches the surface of the earth, or if we are immersed in a natural body of water we tune to this vibration and experience profound healing. 
Some of us sensitive folks feel the vibration as a pleasant warm, tingling, sensation when trodding barefoot along the water’s edge at the beach or on a stretch of dew-moistened grass. 
Walking with a Natural Stride
There are about 5,000 nerve endings in the bottom of each foot. As our feet touch the ground, the feedback creates a light, natural stride in the body contrary to the impact and joint torque in a shoe. 
This stride reawakens muscles that have atrophied in our shoes, and reawakens our balance system as nerve endings on the bottom of our feet tell us that we’re leaning or tilting forward, or that we’re bending forward at the waist. Such feedback stimulates new neural connections and remaps the mind for greater balance. 
With practice, walking barefoot will translate into running, walking, and even standing with better posture, more mobility, a stronger body, and less joint pain. 
Barefoot is Healthier
And there’s more good news. Studies show that stimulating the nerve endings on the bottom of the feet can decrease blood pressure and reduce sympathetic activity, reducing stress and inflammation.
Get in Touch with the Earth
Walk barefoot outdoors whenever possible and especially after it rains when you get even more of the earth’s healing energy. Sit, stand, or walk on grass, sand, dirt, or concrete as these surfaces transmit the earth’s energy while wood, asphalt, rubber, plastic, glass, synthetic materials and block it.
When you must wear shoes, wear natural fabric shoes like leather or canvas as the popular rubber- or plastic-soled shoes disconnect you even further from the earth’s vibrations.
Earthing
Sleep, work at the computer, or relax watching TV in contact with conductive sheets or mats that transfer earth’s energy to your body (see www.earthing.com) and notice the difference when you don’t. For me it’s immediately evident.  
I have my bare foot on an earthing mat as I type this.  If I lift it up, I feel immediate pressure and stress.  Put it back down and my body relaxes!  Without it, I'm not sure I could work for the hours that I must as a writer.  It's too draining. 
At night, I sleep with an earthing mattress.  If I don’t, I won't sleep as soundly and will wake up feel tense. When I need to travel, I take it with me. 

Sharon Heller, PhD, is a psychologist and consultant in sensory processing disorder.  She’s the author of Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, What to do if you are sensory defensive in an overstimulating world http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060932929?keywords=sharon%20heller&qid=1452174028&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1 and Uptight & Off Center, How sensory processing disorder throws adults off balance & how to create stability. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0692544801?keywords=uptight%20and%20off%20center&qid=1452087814&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&sr=8-1 Her website is www.sharonheller.net and email info@sharonheller.net.