Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Quick Fix to Over-Sensitivity

Today was a dentist day. Now, in spite of being over-sensitive to just about everything, I am good with going to the dentist. As a child, I had a great dentist who told me to focus on something else while he worked on my teeth. I did so and got through the procedure without too much discomfort. It was a good lesson.

But I didn't generalize on it until much later. I was in the midst of a home remodeling project and hammered my thumb instead of the nail :{  I was dramatically in pain. A friend told me I was a wuss, and that I should focus my attention on something else until the pain died down. I did it, and miracle of miracles, it worked. How did he know that and I didn't. He had played sports. I had not. Sensory kids don't.do.sports because it's noisy and you get bumped a lot. And that's the point of this post sensory kids naturally react differently to pain, bumps and sounds and they avoid activities like sports where kids get so many life lessons, including "think about something else".

If Zoey is playing in the sprinkler and gets water in her face, she can focus on it with discomfort, or she can shift her attention outward to something else, like the sprinkler itself, her chest or her hands. If Martin is standing next to an alarm that sounds for several seconds, he can bring his attention back into his body (and his hands over his ears) and in that way stay grounded.

This particular lesson is a game changer, and here's why. Our brain operates with great efficiency, always trying to guess what to be ready for. If I focus on sensory discomforts, the brain says, "That's what she wants to pay attention to", and so it prioritizes the brain's focus to discomforts. On the other hand, if I am able to ignore the discomfort, and focus on something else, discomfort loses priority. What a concept. Discomfort loses priority, and we don't attend to it. What a great lesson for our kids!

By the way the circuitry that processes priorities is in the right anterior insular cortex (rAI). It feeds priorities to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) which takes action: behaviors, motor and emotional reactions and cognitive redirection. ....but that's a post for another day.