Growing Up with Sensory Issues:Insider Tips from a Woman with Autism

jack-onswingJennifer McIlwee Myers

There hasn’t been a book that I have reviewed for the blog which I have enjoyed reading as much as this book. The author, now in her 40s, tells her own story augmented by decades of research and experience and does it in an engaging and endearing way. Since we all process the information from our senses differently, we all have some sensory issues, but “SPD happens when a person’s brain does not make good enough sense of sensory input for that person to complete the tasks of daily life without serious impediment.” p. 27 The book reads like a good historical novel which gives you the feel of the situation while you are absorbing more history than you realize….this_was_a_timely_capture_3926001309

Then there’s the fight-or-flight reflex thing: Like a lot of people with SPD, my tactile and visual responses are set up so I get into that all-out-fight-or-flight, adrenaline-addled, ready-to-rip-out-a-tiger’s throat mental state quickly and effectively in totally inappropriate situations. p. 12

The vital information I got from learning about SPD gave me real power over my own life. It provided a basic tool for me to learn to be more emotionally resilient and generally functional. The second thing I learned when I started reading everything I could find on SPD was that my brain was not always an accurate source of information. In fact, no human brain really is. pp. 13 – 14


Stress makes behaving sanely difficult. p. 14

The only path to success is through roughly five zillion failures, and the only way to stop having bad patches is to give up and stop growing. You can’t protect anyone, not even yourself, from everything. p. 20

So perfect eyesight doesn’t guarantee that a person will understand or remember visual information very well. And it doesn’t guarantee having a “sense” of color or distance. p. 22


Heck, the ordinary senses of where our bodies are and how we are moving are vastly different from person to person. p. 22

There’s a ton of work to be done just to have a shot at using your eyes to coordinate what you’re doing with your hands. p. 23


Thing is, my crafting skills did not have to be so very poor. It’s possible for a child with a poor muscle sense to grow and stretch that sense and develop better and better skills. But because I was embarrassed by anyone seeing how clumsy and awkward I was at art skills (and physical skills), I avoided the very activities that might have helped me. p. 45

Some children can almost immediately take advantage of the improved sight that comes with having glasses that give them clear vision, but some kids with SPD have a really hard time adapting to suddenly being able to see so much more than before. If a kid has had years of bad hand-eye coordination because he is terribly farsighted, the process of getting eyes and hands synced up can take time and may require help from an OT or behavioral optometrist. p. 55

My brother underwent vision therapy that made a huge difference. For a long time, he had to wear special glasses that had partially blacked-out lenses to permanently train his eyes to look forward correctly. But the initial therapy made a huge difference in his behavior quite quickly. He stopped his pugilistic habits and became much easier to deal with in a lot of situations. p. 56

mental minusjpeg 002

In other words, a kid who has poor fine-motor skills won’t get far in improving them if he can’t be gradually led into activities that give him some upper-body strength and better posture. This is an area in which you have to look at the entire person, because just finding and implementing ways to improve fine-motor skills won’t work if the other parts of the body aren’t able to support that hand. p. 86

Active play engages more muscle groups than sit-ups or calisthenics. p. 93


Kids who have a sensory discrimination disorder that affects their vision (aka muddled up sight) can get into a lot of social trouble since people’s facial features, facial expressions, and body language are all assumed to be open books for sighted folk. p. 109

If someone says, “Look at the tree next to X,” unless both the tree and X are fairly isolated in my visual field, my chance of finding either one is pretty slim. p. 111

There are many tasks that we do without ever thinking about what we are actually doing with the vast amount of visual data involved. I can’t imagine what it is like for a child with very iffy visual processing to go to the grocery store right after the floor plan has been entirely reorganized. p. 113

Think about what this would mean to a child: If you can’t make sense of the visual information in comic books, how much of the visual information are you missing in your day-to-day life? How much social communication is purely visual, and how often do the real intended meanings of words hinge on visual clues like facial expressions and body language? p. 114


With a stranger in the room, he couldn’t generalize his abilities. p. 122 (We are all susceptible to the total load at the time which includes present and past stresses. This is why one of the goals of vision therapy is to make visual abilities automatic; less likely to fail to be generalized.)

Kids develop through play. Not just motor skills, not just imagination or problem solving, but whole-kid development. Children need play. It’s the most serious and important work of childhood. p. 124


Developing and improving sensory processing is a lot like developing any skill that involves coordinating your brain and nervous system with the rest of the body. This means going with activities that are not too far from what the child can already do. It’s called “scaling” (or, sometimes, “scaffolding”), and it’s a vital concept. p. 129

I learned more in the classrooms of teachers who knew that they didn’t understand me than in the classrooms of teachers who thought they did. That matters. p. 190

You can influence a child very positively with well thought-out rules and consequences. It’s a behaviorally approach, and the thing about behavioral approaches is that they can work really well when they are realistic. p. 19020160626_161349

Kids do need to have a realistic idea of how their own negative behaviors (or lack of behavior) can hurt them. For both long-term and short-term independence, kids need that clear cause-and-effect process to be part of their lives. p. 197

Powerful emotional states are, by nature, hard to manage. Sensory processing can be stronger and more urgent than any kind of logic… You can’t talk someone out of what their senses assure them is real. p. 200

What children need to know is that their brains can become stronger and better…. Not only that, but making mistakes and having them corrected actually makes you smarter. p. 209mistakes

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

A Full Life with Autism

NeuroTribes:The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

Autism, Parenting, and Rage

Autism and the Self

The Autism Revolution, Part One   The Autism Revolution, Part Two

Book review: Finding Kansas

Autism Solutions by Ricki G. Robinson, M.D., M.P.H.