Soooo, quick re-cap: There’s ADHD, there’s sensory processing disorder, and then there’s the simple fact that many of us with ADHD also have “sensory issues”, and yes, these may all overlap somehow in ways we don’t fully understand yet. ADHD is Attention Deficit Disorder, a title that refers to the fact that those of us bearing the diagnosis have difficulty making choices about where and how our attention is used or directed. There’s a wide range of how this effects people, academically, and practically speaking. Academically there are those who struggle from the beginning of their schooling, and there are those with multiple university degrees, and everything in between, each with their own particular challenges. In our personal lives, challenges present themselves in another broad spectrum of inhibitions as we stumble through the details of daily living. We make everything from taking out the garbage to maintaining healthy adult relationships look like some kind of reality show challenge where even though one person may win, they look like a complete asshole by the end of the show.
I’m not personally familiar with the challenges of sensory processing disorder so I’ll defer to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation for a definition.
And then there’s those of us who have ADHD and sensory issues. To illustrate:
1) I once turned down an apartment that I was offered, in an area where it was difficult to get an apartment, because it was not possible to disconnect the light from the bathroom fan: When the light was turned on, the fan went on automatically. I cannot tolerate the grinding, unending sound of a bathroom fan. Cannot. Will. Lose. My. Shit. Any grinding, repetitive, unending sound qualifies for this category. Even small ones. I hear them.
2) I spent most of my childhood obsessed with how my shoes were tied. They could not be too loose. They could not be too tight. This drove my parents insane. Good thing I was pretty handy at tying my own shoes. These days I usually seem to be able to tell my mind to shut the heck up when it goes there. If not…well…I retie my shoes so my feet are comfortable. Slips ons are GREAT. No war of the laces.
3) Overhead lighting throws me into internal panic/migraine/sick feeling in pit of stomach/complete inability to concentrate mode like nothing else. At work, I have to either have my own office, or office mates willing to understand that it’s not an option for me, and who willing to work with desk or area lamps on. I’ll tell you right now that this is the kind of thing that people really don’t understand. Day after day I’ve had people walk into offices of my past, flipping the light on because I must have “forgotten” to turn them on. Nope, just happy and productive here in the dark, thanks. Or…the time I had a passive-aggressive office mate who generally worked in the dark and expressed a preference for such…until I mentioned my issue with overhead light. Thereafter, he would have histrionics about how he just couldn’t see, and needed the light on, complete with lots of huffing and puffing and drama. He was the number two reason I left that job and don’t regret it.
4) I have sudden, inexplicable reactions to noise in my environment. A too-loud television or radio might suddenly have me scrambling quite desperately for the remote.
5) Then there’s not liking how your clothes feel on your skin (I have certain fabrics that I WILL NOT WEAR) or always noticing when there’s something on your fingertips (in a way that probably doesn’t bother most people) and on and on, but for me, the biggies these days are light and sound, and happily, I’m able to control these issues in my environment most of the time (which makes it easier to “deal” the rest of the time).
It is a fact that if you do not look like you have a physical disability, many people think it’s extremely odd when you have these kinds of issues. I’m not condoning that thinking from any angle, or condemning most humans as jerks — just observing that many people have narrow and uninformed perceptions of what “disability” or “impairment” means. I’m well past the point of apologizing for my quirks (though I do try to not make them other people’s problem, as much as possible) but I wish more people were past the point of being judgmental about other people’s quirks.
From the inside, the best description I am able to give to all of these sensations, in my experience, is that it feels like the room is screaming at me, and in no casual manner. It feels like it is right there at the end of my nose, provoking a reaction that I cannot ignore within myself, because it pricks me in the primitive parts. I feel fear, panic. It wells up in my gut faster than I can adjust — I stand on the street corner, fingers in ears, working extremely hard not to make a socially unacceptable facial reaction, and telling myself not to run, as an ambulance or fire truck screams past me.
ADHD stimulant medication makes a HUGE difference for me in my sensory experience of the world around me. I am far less reactive, far less pricked, or piqued or harassed by ANY sensory overstimulation with my meds, it’s like turning a volume dial to a lower setting, and as a result, my general anxiety lowers as well, which has all kinds of beneficial effects. I know when the meds are wearing off because the dial slowly turns right back up. This is one of the reasons that I get really pissed off by the thoughtless and ignorant discounting of medications as “all bad”. They are not all bad. In fact, they have improved my life to a degree that I never could have imagined if I’d not tried them.
These sensory issues are one of the most defining factors of my ADHD experience.
I feel like I had a point in here somewhere…yes, something beyond the point I just made…
OH YES. All of this brings me to the present, where I have consciously decided that I will tailor my life to what works for me. My workplaces are all low-light and comfortable to me (and shared spaces are mostly lit in a way that works for everyone). I wear headphones to shut out other sounds and to stimulate my brain with sound of my choosing (music) to help me focus. I have certain fabrics and textures that I simply will not wear anymore.
What are your experiences with sensory issues, ADHD-related, or otherwise? How do you accommodate them?