Sensory overload is a well known anxiety for parents of children with additional needs. Fun and excitement, stress and anxiety can easily tip over into a meltdown. Too much noise, heat, cold, lighting etc can cause physical distress in children with overstimulated sensory systems. One thing I’ve noticed a lot (as a rather introverted and very empathic parent of children with sensory issues, FASD, ADHD and ASD/PDA) is that I also get sensory overstimulation too as I try to manage their challenges. I protect myself emotionally as best I can with meditation and time out (when possible) but I can easily absorb their stress into my own body and soon find I feel overwhelmed too.

On the days when the children are struggling to regulate themselves everything takes longer to achieve; the morning routine becomes tense and explosive; trying to attempt homework with overstimulated bodies and minds bouncing and fidgeting and struggling to concentrate can make even the calmest mind spin leading to tension, everything feels louder and brighter and the pressure builds up. Just meeting the needs of the day can feel like trying to juggle whilst standing on one foot in a blowing gale. On those days the impact of the pressure inside stops my brain working properly as adrenaline starts to flood through my system and I can feel like a pressure cooker ready to explode. I’d like to say that I have some clever, cure-all, mindfulness trick for days like these. I try. I really do.  If there's a technique out there I will try it. I help other people cope with stress in my business but I am deeply aware that there are times when it catches you unprepared and unawares and strikes before you can get a hold of it.

Some days I can self regulate well by accepting this is all about control, walking away and breathing for a while but on the really bad days when I can’t just walk away because I literally cannot take my eyes off the children or they won't allow me to walk away due to their own insecurities, the impact of that pressure can last a long time in my body. My system overloads and I can start to feel isolated and petulant and my own feelings can mirror the feelings of the children and become very external. I totally understand how my children feel inside because I feel it too yet I have to somehow contain those feelings. I remind myself that I am the parent, the adult, the grown up. It's my job to show them how to manage these feelings yet here am I going through so much in myself after marriage break up and trying to process all the realities of that whilst managing the tornado of their emotions too,  I can feel my jaw getting tense and my mind swims with the effort of trying to stay calm, making it harder and harder to think creatively. I desperately want to be the parent I aspire to be but instead the feelings of overwhelm flood my body.

Trying to stop children who have rigidity in their thinking is like trying to stop a juggernaut whose brakes have failed whilst driving at 70mph. It's pointless. You can see the accident hurtling towards you. You might even try to move out of the way but there’s no stopping the force of it. Helpful mainstream parenting techniques will tell you to redirect them towards something else. Personally I don’t think people who suggest things like that have ever dealt with children who literally cannot stop until they have reached a conclusion in their actions. There's no logic to it.  You almost watch it unfold in terrible slow motion. You try to intercept them. You might even find yourself desperately yelling at them to stop but there’s nothing stopping them until there are tears. Then, when the tears come, the anger follows and you are invariably blamed for their feelings. You may well get slapped, punched, pushed, sworn at or shouted at. There will no doubt be the stomping up upstairs and door slamming or things being thrown in my direction. I often just stand and stare helplessly wondering what to do, trying to assess the situation and formulate a plan, all the while experiencing and trying to manage my own sensory overstimulation.

On the days when it all becomes too much and I join in with their chaos by raising my voice I feel like I am outside of myself, just like them. I know that shouting solves nothing, it just makes it worse because I am no longer the calm island in the storm. Release is needed. This calm island is now a single parent, often with nobody around for back up. Anxiety makes the children sketchy and clingy, twitchy and like the dry forest after a long, hot summer. There is no space to breathe. One spark will create an inferno, This island often feels like the coastline is eroding due to the constant daily battering. I would love to have a few additional defences erected to offer some protection. Meditation helps a lot. So does chatting with my long suffering friends, lots of chamomile tea or  the occasional night off (if the children decide that they can manage that). Some nights, when it gets too much the only solution is a deep, hot bath to warm and loosen those tense muscles. Unfortunately the over stimulation from the heat of the water means that sleep then becomes elusive.  Early nights to catch up on sleep are out of the question currently because anxiety keeps Katie awake.  SATS preparation is draining the soul from her and I am trying hard to place as few demands on her at home as possible.  She wants to do well and tries so hard but it's hard on her.  She masks her difficulties at school very well but all that build up has to go somewhere.  Pip struggles to leave me when he goes to school and we both have to cope with the sadness that this brings.  Both children come home from school ready to run as far away from the day as possible.  Pip is now 6 and has started to realise the power he can exert over his sister by winding her up and getting her into trouble.  Katie responds in his direction often with anger and frustration and a well timed slap or kick which makes it harder to encourage Pip to see his actions are annoying because his sense of unfairness at being hurt overrides everything and Katie then feels that her challenges aren't seen as clearly because he is upset.  Many years ago I learned the power of putting the children in the bath when they were beyond all help and I still use that response even today - albeit separate baths!  iPads are a massive blessing in our home because they transport each child temporarily away from a world where life is unpredictable and demanding into a place where they can create and build and distance themselves from the things that cause their internal stress.  Obviously there is the ever watchful eye of mum who is making sure that too much of a good thing doesn't become too much for their systems to handle either and the ending of the fun has to be carefully managed with timers and a countdown for the technology to be turned off in plenty of time for bed.

Yes I definitely understand how my children feel when they are overstimulated, because I am overstimulated too.  


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