First of all, I want to wish everyone a happy Christmas! It is one of my favorite times of year, because I like all the lights that people put on their houses and trees in their yards. Knowing how hard this holiday used to be makes it all the more special to me.
Like I wrote last month, I used to be completely overwhelmed by all the sensory input around me. It was like that scene in The Matrix where Neo can finally see all the code streaming down around him, setting up the environment that all the humans thought corposalute.it was reality. I remember the final scene when he picks one of the bullets coming at him out of the air, like you might pick a piece of lint off a friend’s sweater. For me, turning off a stream of sensory input is kind of like that: I identify what I need to focus on, pick it out from all the other competing options, and isolate it in my attention. This is absolutely central in being able to letterboard, because letterboarding is hard work!
For many years – probably up until I was eleven – I had such a hard time isolating my focus. Holidays were especially hard because I could feel the pressure for expected experiences that we as a family should have: opening presents and playing with them, showing appropriate interest and delight in receiving a present, and getting into the unwrapping of each one. The thing is that I wasn’t yet able to isolate my focus, and as a result, I looked like I was totally out of it, underwhelmed by the festivities, when inside, I was giddy with excitement. My poor mom, trying to get me to take part, when all I could do was stare into the tree’s lights and get lost in the sound of ripping gift paper! She didn’t have a clue how to reach me through all the white noise.
So what worked after all those years of not having a way to communicate? How did I manage to overcome the oceanic tide of sensory input around me?
Having the presence of people simply being with me while I enjoyed a favorite activity was the beginning. For me, it was cutting paper. I absolutely loved to cut paper. I could cut paper all day long! The first time my mom sat with me to cut paper, I wouldn’t let her touch the scissors or the paper. She basically sat there, pretending to snip away at an imaginary piece of paper. She sprinkled it and swished all the pretend bits on the floor in front of her, imitating my actions, but not being annoying about it. I got the sense that she really enjoyed it, and could see why I found it so engaging. We sat together for many hours, and I still can see the delighted yellow glow she gave off the first time she was allowed to use real scissors and paper! Not that I am laughing at her or anything, but after all those hours of ABA, it was nice to take away something *she* wanted and make her earn it back!
All that was missing was acceptance; that was it. Having people trying to understand my perspective, my experiences in a neurotypical world, and my view of my surroundings was the cornerstone of me finally trusting the people tasked with reaching me. After that trust was established, I was able to bring them into my sensory arch and connect with them like I did the paper. They became something to study and understand, and while all their unpredictability flummoxes me, I now would take people over paper any day.