As mothers, we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are constantly trying to juggle work, family life, and everything in between. But what happens when it feels like an invisible force is pushing against you? For me, that force was sensory processing disorder (SPD). Finding out that I have SPD has felt like a breath of fresh air — an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. I finally understand why I often feel overstimulated, touched out, and like I need to escape. I have finally gotten to let go of a lot of the guilt I’ve carried about how I respond to my children, since now I understand that a lot of it is simply a result of my brain chemistry. Let me explain:
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition where the brain has difficulty processing information from the senses. It is typically misunderstood or misdiagnosed as autism, ADHD, or anxiety. However, SPD is its own distinct condition with its own set of challenges. Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder include difficulty filtering out background noise, having heightened sensitivity to certain textures or smells, being easily overwhelmed by loud environments, and having difficulty with motor coordination tasks such as handwriting or tying shoes. I struggle mostly with issues pertaining to noise and physical touch. I also have severe diagnosed anxiety and take a daily SSRI to keep it in check. Sometimes, it feels like my anxiety and my SPD dance together in a strange tango, dipping and twirling each other until I am dizzy. And always, the worst of it happens around my children.
SPD and Motherhood
Children are noisy, and touchy, and make lots of mouth noises (sucking, slurping, smacking). These are things that really trigger my Sensory Processing Disorder. When the SPD and the anxiety start their child-induced tango, I find myself becoming extremely impatient and frustrated with them.
I have spent a lot of time beating myself up about those feelings. Nobody feels great about being so overwhelmed by their children that they feel the constant need to escape.
It’s a feeling I have always despised.
It wasn’t until I came to understand my Sensory Processing Disorder that I was able to let go of some of that guilt and shame. Understanding SPD has been incredibly helpful for me as a mom. It has allowed me to have more compassion for myself when I am behaving in ways that don’t reflect how I want to be as a mom. Since discovering that I have SPD, I have been able to take steps towards managing my symptoms and learning how to cope with them in different environments—particularly when it comes to my kids. They will always make noise. Those are the sounds of joy; I never want them to stop! So, I am learning how to cope with them while being self-compassionate about how my brain works. My kids will always want to touch me. I am their first home, their first friend. They will always long to touch me, to be near to me. And I don’t want that to stop, either! So, part of my work is to figure out how to recognize then I’m overstimulated and touched out, learn when I have enough mental capacity to let them touch me, and also learn when I need to ask them to give me space.
My kids deserve me at my very best. Sometimes, my very best is letting them snuggle up to me and using my coping strategies to focus on the joy that brings instead of the overstimulation. Sometimes, my very best is advocating for myself, communicating to them that I have needs of my own, and helping them learn to be compassionate about that. If you think you might have Sensory Processing Disorder, there are self diagnoses tools that can give preliminary insight into whether you have the symptoms. You should always follow up with a specialist if you think you have SPD, but getting self-diagnosed is a great first step. Also consider taking self-tests for ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety, as these can have a lot of overlap with SPD.