I sit in a place we call the bouncy house. I am assured of sensory overload in this place which most people with my Sensory Processing Disorder challenges would not happily enter. There are two rooms with inflatable spaces and sliding boards and net-enclosed inflated trampoline-like floors. Today is a Federal holiday. My office is closed as is my 4 year old’s daycare. The bouncy house has scheduled a two hour “Preschool Play Date”, giving parents a place to take their children on this cold, rainy October Monday.
The room we are in is about 30 feet by 90 feet and filled with children ages 18 months to 5 years old. The children are running and jumping and sliding. I hear them screaming and laughing with glee or crying for any of a myriad of reasons, none emergencies. Their parents yell, usually calling out instruction or encouraging words. All this sound is overlaid by the white noise of the machine that keeps the equipment inflated and the loud, pulsing music that is intended to set a party atmosphere. Cameras flash as parents take pictures of their little darlings and I see the negative images of those flashes on my computer screen as I type. Old fluorescent lights flicker with a frequency few if any other people in the room can see. But I see it. The smells of fruit juice, soiled diapers, and old shoes and boots assault me as people kick off their foot ware and toss their diaper bags within inches of where I sit on the floor. There are no chairs on which to sit. I prefer to sit on the floor anyway. But I do not prefer to sit near the smelly items.
This place is a sensory nightmare for me. Sensory Processing Disorder makes it so. I suspect it is like what people without sensory processing issues would experience if they were required to listen to dozens of people talking to them simultaneously and expecting responsive conversation while loud music played in the background with a wall of television sets set to different channels that the person was expected to watch and absorb while in an odoriferous garbage room with several strobe and spotlights pointed toward them.
This environment would have been intolerable to me in my less experienced days. Now I have my “sensory deprivation kit” and with that the place is like a bad dream...except that my child loves it here. Unfortunately, the items in my kit do not really send me into sensory deprivation. However, on good days they do make situations like the bouncy house tolerable for short periods of time. I put on a baseball cap and dark sunglasses. These protect me somewhat from the flashbulb light and the florescent flickering and help me not to see the children moving erratically all around me. Noise-cancelling headphones (sometimes just earplugs) go far to block the onslaught of auditory chaos. And a piece of peppermint gum in my mouth and a bit of Vicks VapoRub under my nose block much of the smell. I spread my laptop case, bag, and other items around me in a protective circle to decrease the chance that someone will sit very close or bump into me.
Even with these tools, I can still only stay in this sensory onslaught for a short while. And it is still exhausting and unpleasant. But that I can tolerate it reasonably well for even a short time is something I never would have thought possible 10 years ago. Finding and using adaptive measures makes living with any challenge easier. I like finding new ways to deal with sensory challenges. If you have some, please share. This is a case where ignorance is definitely not bliss.