Friday, July 02, 2010
Sniffing Tennis Balls?
My son, Josh, has a well developed sense of smell. His sensory processing issues are sometimes a strength but more often than not when he was younger they interfered with his ability to function and participate fully in activities. When I homeschooled Josh and his sisters, two out of three of my students had AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) along with sensory and auditory processing difficulties. Not only did they have more energy than I did, I had to repeat myself a lot and keep their sensory challenges in mind. Leaning over to help Josh with an assignment, I can remember Josh informing me that I had coffee breath. Unwilling to forgo coffee, I instead tried to angle my head so that when I spoke the air flow would be directed away from Josh's nose. Picture the way a bird cocks its head, and that's probably about what I looked like as I taught my little fledglings. Although I wasn't right in his face, his overly sensitive nose could pick up the smell of a peanut butter sandwich from several feet away. As with many of his sensory integration challenges, Josh was both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding at times. When I prepared his meals, Josh always had to sniff the food before eating it. Always. Even if it was his favorite meal, very familiar to him, he smelled it prior to eating as if this time I might have slipped something nasty in his food for unknown reasons. Josh wasn't a picky eater, but he sure appeared to be a suspicious one. Over time, I was able to get him to sniff more surreptitiously at least when he was a guest in someone's home or out in public. Josh still occasionally gives an unfamiliar food item a sniff prior to tasting it, but I think that's o.k. because we all tend to notice the smells of new and previously untried foods. Josh's tendency to sniff things wasn't limited to food or drink items. One time Josh was playing with our dog, having him fetch a tennis ball. This is when impulsivity collided with sensory processing and Josh took the tennis ball from the dog's mouth and gave it a sniff. "Ewww! This smells terrible!" he proclaimed, practically gagging before lifting it to his nose for another whiff. "Ugh! That's awful! Plus, it's slimy!" Now his whole system was on red alert since he experienced an aversive smell and an aversive tactile feeling together. I could practically see him shudder. We had to laugh, though, because even after he knew the tennis ball had a bad odor, he went ahead and smelled it again before he could stop himself. When I asked him why, he said something in his brain told him to check again to see if it was as bad as he thought it was. His own second opinion was confirmation enough. Josh still has an acute sense of smell, but over the years has learned to control both his impulsivity and his reactions to smells - even though as his mom I can still tell when he is cringing inside.