Many years ago, when our son was only seven years old, I took him to Wal-Mart for his very first time. He had only been with us for a week since we had returned from India, where we adopted him. We had only been in the story for a few minutes—in the toy section of course—when I abruptly realized I had to get him out of that environment. Doing so was like trying to corral a 40-pound octopus with eight arms as our son reached, gabbed and lunged at the toys, causing some of them to fall off the shelves. It was a noisy affair! Humorous as this story sounds (and in retrospect, it is funny), it told me very clearly that our sone wasn’t quite ready for that amount of sensory input. In the orphanage where he lived for two and-a-half years, there were toys, but all of them were shared, and there certainly wasn’t the overwhelming variety that he discovered at Wal Mart. For him, going into Wal Mart was like stepping out of a space ship onto a different planet. This was my first lesson about sensory overload.
The above scenario highlights an important issue for all adoptive and foster parents—be aware of possibly sensory challenges and overload on your child. Children living in orphanages and many foster homes are used to many sensory experiences—many children playing, talking, crying and a general buzz of activity from daylight to bedtime. However, this does not mean they will quick assimilate to your world. Additionally, many children who have experienced pre- birth and early childhood trauma have also suffered negative impact to their brain development. This can result in sensory deficits connected to a variety of experiences like sound type and volume, food textures, light sensitivity and aversion to certain fabrics. When exposing a newly adopted or fostered child to new experience “easy does it” is a necessary rule to follow. Also, it is vital to educate yourself about your child’s possible/likely sensory challenges and deficits.
Thank you to my son Michael for allowing me to share our personal story. Michael is 35 now. He still enjoys going into Wal Mart, but I don’t have to carry him out anymore!
*Does your child have difficulty with sensory processing, or do you suspect that he or she does? I recommend the excellent book, The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz. It is a great resource for parents.