Art Therapy for Special Needs

treehouse illustration

Treehouse Illustration by Jennifer Allison

I have Sensory Processing Disorder and the struggle is very real. As a child I was in constant battle with the world around me…as well as my parents and teachers. I’d often retreat to the woods behind my house where I built a tree fort to escape the chaos and drama and seek much-needed solitude. That was where I found peace, and I spent hours talking to the various insects and birds that accepted me and my quirky, special need for quiet time.

As an adult, I’ve learned that throwing myself on the floor while kicking and screaming isn’t a socially acceptable way to deal with the overwhelming sensory input that my brain fails to process properly. But the disorder continues to wreak havoc in my everyday life. For example, in order to survive the corporate cubicle world where I work, I have to wear noise-canceling headphones all day long, but this isn’t ideal for inspiring creativity or productivity.

I no longer have a treehouse or secret fort deep in the woods that I can retreat to as an adult. Unfortunately. However, there IS one thing I’ve found that truly calms my stress and melts away the chaos and discomfort of my hyper-sensitive sensory system. That one thing is drawing. 

Creating a Sanctuary of Solace

Kid in ClosetRelaxing, and even sleeping, doesn’t come easy for me. Because of my Sensory Processing Disorder, the process of unwinding is usually a battle. It’s essential for me to have a quiet place to retreat after work, church, or social outings so I can be rejuvenated for interacting with the world again.

Quiet time is important for everyone though, not just people with special needs. Even Jesus Christ, who had the most important mission on earth, often found time to be alone. This discipline refueled and focused Him for interacting with the crowds He wanted to help, serve and heal. (Mark 1:35-38)

Those of us with disorders like SPD, or who have introverted personalities, need time alone for overall health and well-being. Time to heal and become refreshed is important so we can reengage with the world at our very best. Here’s are a few ideas that have helped me.

5 Things You Should Never Say to a Kid

Girl Running AwayAs I was growing up, I heard a lot of the same words over and over again in regards to my behavior. The redundant questions and statements from parents and teachers brought a lot of unnecessary confusion and pain into my life.

I have Sensory Processing Disorder which creates a lot of unique challenges for me. You can learn more about SPD by reading my article, One Reason I’m So Weird. I’m sure my disability was the main reason the following words were repeated like a broken record to me. However, they did more damage than good. Words have a lot of power so we need to be wise about how we use them.

Here are five things I believe you should never say, with some alternatives to say instead. I hope these will turn a struggle with a difficult child into an opportunity to help them instead.

My Memoir is Here!

Book PhotoToday is the day. I’m so excited! For over a year and a half I’ve been diligently working on putting this book together. Now it’s here. I can’t believe it. Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement along the way. You all helped in making my dream a reality.

Check out my store for buying options

Here’s the book summary:

This book is a nostalgic coming-of-age memoir about growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. Jennifer began her quest for self-discovery at an early age when she realized she was different from other kids. Suffering from a bizarre condition known as Sensory Processing Disorder, she has a unique perspective on life and shares her innermost thoughts and struggles. She fell into many deep potholes on her journey, which included abuse, addiction, and poverty. Ultimately, however, the challenges taught her some valuable life lessons. This story will make you laugh, cry, and cheer as you travel alongside Jennifer on the road to hope, transformation, and the meaning of life.

Surviving Sensory Overload

The hardest part about having Sensory Processing Disorder is never knowing when sensory overload might occur.  There are certain environments I know will create anxiety and stress for me, and I avoid them as much as I can. But there are other times when a whirlwind of sensory input might assault me suddenly and without warning. The result is a seemingly random meltdown (at least to innocent bystanders, or to my mother who usually gets frantic text messages from me).

When I get overwhelmed, my brain immediately goes into survival mode. If I have no control over the bombarding stimuli, then my heart races at full panic mode until I’m able to escape. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that there’s no real threat, or that the sounds wouldn’t bother a “normal” person. It still hurts. I guess my brain has a mind of its own.

I recently discovered that if I get involved in a project, like drawing or painting,  I can cope with a LOT more sensory input than usual. My focus is so intense when I draw that the world just melts away…along with my anxiety, doubt and pain. 

With Great Weakness Comes Great Responsibility

superheroMost of us have probably heard the infamous quote that Uncle Ben advised Peter Parker when he discovered the teenager had supernatural powers and became Spiderman. He urged, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That insight helped Peter understand that his newfound strength and abilities should be used to help others…not to be squandered or utilized for personal gain.

God has gifted all of his children with talents and abilities that should be used to serve one another in this world. And the Bible is full of verses that teach us how to do so.

So then, what does 2 Corinthians 12:9 mean when Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness?” Paul responds to that by saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Why would God give us each different gifts and talents, but then want us to be excited about our shortcomings?

One Reason Why I’m So Weird

AngryGirlMost people think I’m a little weird, and that may very well be true, but I also have a bizarre neurological condition called Sensory Processing Disorder.  That means my brain doesn’t process incoming sensory data properly.  Some stimuli trigger an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, especially certain textures and soft sounds, because my brain interprets the information as a serious threat.  Therefore, simple everyday things that most people don’t even notice can be completely overwhelming to me.

To give you an idea what SPD is like, try and imagine how your body would feel if a burglar suddenly entered your home with a weapon drawn.  Most likely you would experience a sudden onset of anxiety, while your body filled with adrenalin and your heart raced.  Your mind would scramble for ideas to get out of the life-threatening situation.  You would instinctively do anything you could to stay alive.  Well, my brain responds in a similar way to simple ordinary things, like a keyboard typing or a whispered conversation or even the texture of a Popsicle stick or cardboard.  I can be perfectly calm and happy one minute but if someone walks by wearing flip-flops then my body revolts at the sound of each snap against their heel and my spine curls with discomfort.  When I’m in a crowd of people at a restaurant, an event, or even at church, I’m probably not engaged in much conversation.  I may appear to be anti-social or unfriendly, but I’m really just focusing all my energy towards preventing a meltdown because my brain struggles to decipher which conversations are important, since they all blend together into a nonsensical mess.