The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

29 September 2009

The Sick Sense(s)

By: Pinky O. Cuaycong


Temple Grandin, perhaps the most famous person with autism in the world, knows only too well how her senses have defined many of her reactions in life. As a young child, she was absolutely terrified of loud noises. She likened the ringing of the school bell to the pain caused by a dentist’s drill on a nerve. Clothes felt like sandpaper against her skin. Anything — from the sound of popping balloons to the sensation of the stitches in the hem of her clothes — can set off a chain of reactions spanning from mild distaste on one end to full-blown meltdowns on the other.


And she is not alone. It is estimated that more than ten percent of children, a great many of whom also have autism, have senses that are not fully organized and as such, respond to external stimuli in extremes of sensitivity and defensiveness. My own son Alphonse, while seemingly oblivious to pain many times, hates the feeling of tags on his clothes. He writhes, as if in real pain, and will tear his clothes to pieces unless the tags are removed.


For years too, he could not tolerate anything on his head. Caps, hats, and hoodies were no-no’s. Haircuts were almost impossible to give and could only be performed when he was in deep sleep. These challenges are among the many he continues to struggle with on a daily basis.


It was my eldest son Alex who coined the term “sick sense” after watching M. Night Shyamalan’s hit movie “The Sixth Sense.” He was but six at the time and immensely curious why his four-year-old brother could not tolerate wearing a cap on his head. Trying to explain to him that Alphonse had difficulty dealing with the information from his senses, he quipped “Oh, he must have a “sick sense,” Mama.” True, the term is a child’s oversimplification of something he did not fully understood, but it also makes a lot of sense. When we consider that receiving, interpreting, and processing information from our senses are tasks we do almost without thought many, many times a day, it is not at all a stretch to understand that difficulties in these areas arise from a dysfunction in the nervous system.


We call them Sensory Processing Disorders or Disorders of Sensory Integration (DSI). Some are exhibited in mild differences in the way a person perceives and interpret stimuli; others are vastly unusual reactions that can border on fear, frustration, and anger. Some are not troublesome or disruptive and can, in fact, be unique gifts of ability and discernment. And yet some are so crippling and so devastating that they can diminish the quality of a person’s life. What Dr. A. Jean Ayres described in her first article in 1955 and in her first book in 1972, “Sensory Integration and Learning Disorders,” are parts of real day-to-day experiences individuals with autism face.


In the forthcoming Autism Society Philippines’ 11th National Conference on Autism, we take a quick crack at the puzzle that Disorders of Sensory Integration is. Moreover, we will learn of the most widely-used interventions — some of which may benefit your own child. Mr. Rolland Lyle Duque, one of our country’s Occupational Therapy experts, will separate fact from fiction by dispelling popular misconceptions and explaining the science to the different approaches to DSIs. I’ve a few questions already lined up in my head in an effort to understand more what my son goes through everyday. I strongly encourage you to do the same. After all, we’re all in this together.


Hurry and register for Autism Without Borders (where HOPE prevails)! There are only two more days before Early Bird rates end!


Pinky Cuaycong is Kittymama, full time mom of two boys (a 16-year-old high school junior and a 14-year-old with profound autism), part-time writer, and blogger. In Okasaneko Chronicles, she writes about her life’s deepest passions: her husband of 18 years, her teenage sons, autism advocacy, and Hello Kitty.

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