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Laura's Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich: A Day in Cheri's Life with Sensory Processing Disorder

Posted Apr 01 2010 12:00am
I am trying to get Laura to start posting on here too and decided to share what happened day before yesterday at lunch. This may prompt her to comment! Ha! Anyway, it was a beautiful day in Springfield, warm, sunny and perfect. So at work, we went outside to eat. As those who follow my writings know, I have sensory processing disorder and that is an important point to remember when reading what happened at lunch. Dining outside is always a challenge and this day was no different.

We have three picnic tables at work. One is beside our building and backs up to the small parking lot and a brick wall. We have a beautiful place to work though and it is surrounded by trees. With this table, it is fully in the sun, but it is hard, metal and you hear a lot of noise there sometimes. I can smell the metallic scent of the table. I of course, sit with my back to the sun to shut out some of the light, Laura sits full sun side, face up for the maximum light. Now, delivery trucks pull up, squeal and there is the sound of opening of the doors, the noise of the air conditioner...everyone else can tune it out, but I cannot. I also have my back to it. When a big delivery truck pulled up, the noise really bothered me. My shoulders were up to my ears. Also, the table is very tall and my feet don't touch the ground well. I am very fatigued since I have had pneumonia and I had to constantly push my body back upright. I just don't like how the metal feels under me. As we sat there, more and more people came out and there was more noise, more conversation to process and participate in. I was at the end of the table (on purpose) I am always on the end for a hasty retreat. So that icky table is where we were for lunch, it should be noted I only ate half of my meal. Maybe I should sit there MORE often.

Now there are two other picnic tables that back up to the trees around our facility. But unfortunately, they were occupied. They are still in that same location, but up on a grassy, hilly area, by the trees, not as close to the parking lot, part sun, part shade, but to the side of your body not directly full on to your face. The tables are lower to the ground, heavy, smooth plastic picnic tables and I like them much, much better than the metal table.

Can you start to see and understand all the sensory issues that were impacting me and how they impacted my ability to eat?

Now on to the sandwich story.

I had my meal, one napkin under the food, one beside me to create a barrier between myself and that table. But I felt it every time my hands touched that rough, odd, surface. Laura got her food out and started to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We both love PBJ but make it very, very differently. I have never watched her make one before. Laura just put her bread out and put A LOT of globs of jelly everywhere, even over the sides of the sandwich. She put her knife with peanut butter residue on it, in the jelly jar. She makes more of a peanut butter and JELLY sandwich. Mine is more peanut butter and more even between the two, with way, way less jelly. No globs, I smooth them all out. Her bread was partially touching the table. Heaven forbid! Mine would have been evened out with nothing over to the sides of the sandwich. If she made one for me like that, do you think I would have eaten Laura's version of the PBJ? If offered nicely? No thank you. If offered with pressure or force? Nope. There would have been a knock down drag out in the parking lot at Koke Mill. Do I like PBJ? Yep. But Table effect + jelly globs+ noise level+sensory overload=Game over. So imagine if I was a child with feeding issues...I would not have eaten that sandwich. The jelly would have also made my hands sticky and the globs would have rolled around on my tongue. Not to mention that I would still be dealing with all the other sensory things to do with the table and environment.

I commented to her on the amount of jelly (when you work together as much as we do, that filter that tells you to speak or be silent gets a little thin). She promptly told me to "shut it" and went on to joke about the Jelly Effect and her current weight loss program!

So the moral of this little tale being this... Kids with mild feeding issues, more severe feeding aversion, sensory issues, OCD, autism, anxiety etc struggle to handle the sensations of food + the sensations in the world. There are rules for what makes a food acceptable and what doesn't. If you think about it you have rules for your food too. Our job is to learn the child's rules and respect them, but find a way for that child to function in the world with the least amount of distress. Yesterday we had lunch at my favorite table. I did much, much better. Also I was in comfortable clothes during the PBJ incident, but if I was not comfortable, my tolerance for the situation would have been much lower. Think about where kids eat, cafeterias that are loud, messy and attack the nervous system with sensation. I have so many parents telling me about times when their child ate well and surprised them completely and times when their child rejected a food they always liked and they don't understand what happened. My job is to piece it all together. If what happened with us day before yesterday happened to a child, that child might think the next time he sees a sandwich made-he will likely think of that memory of when it seemed repulsive. He might flash back to that image for a very long time to come too or if dealing with autism, OCD-always flash back to that image. We then have to help that child have other images of that food that are acceptable. I thought of Laura's sandwich this morning as I made my PBJ sandwich today, that is what prompted me to write this post.

Oh how very different Laura peanut butter sandwiches and Cheri peanut butter sandwiches look!

Think about these issues as you study how the children you work with like to eat. It is about much, much more than the food. Make a glob-free PBJ! There are rules, people, RULES!

Happy Chaining!!
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