Mother and her children having fun in the swimming pool

family at the pool I’ll never forget that summer.

It was hot, I was 9-months pregnant with our third child and supposed to be on rest. My OB had instructed me not to lift more than 10 pounds.

The concept of rest is laughable to any mother, let alone a 9-month-pregnant one with a 19-month-old and 3-year-old, who would later be diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.

I neglected to tell my doctor that I spent most days underarming my 3-year-old out of public places, with a diaper bag slung on one shoulder, my daughter’s hand in one of my own and tears in my eyes. Every public meltdown, every set of eyes on me, made me feel deflated. At that time, I felt my son’s behavior was a reflection of my parenting skills.

That summer my husband got us a pool membership. The plan was to have the kids wear themselves out in the kiddie pool and water tables. I could plunk my pregnant self in the kiddie pool with them and “rest.”

In reality, I’d manage to wrangle my toddlers and all our pool gear into the car, drive to the facility, lug everyone through the building and out back to where the pool is located only to have my oldest melt down, after which we’d get him out of there, all the way back through the facility and home.

The other moms would look away in an attempt to be polite. They would rifle through their diaper bags or start up a quiet conversation with their children, pretending not to notice us. It was impossible not to notice us.

We arrived at the pool one excruciatingly hot and humid morning. My son immediately melted down, and all the moms did their pretending-not-to-see-it thing. I tried to talk him down, but it wasn’t working. Cheeks flushed, heart pounding, I tried to calm myself down. Defeated but determined not to convey it, I set my jaw and collected our belongings. My son continued melting down. I was moving as quickly as I could for an extremely pregnant woman.

The pool moms continued to look away as I struggled to lower my 9-month-pregnant-body down to his level to pick him up. Once I had him, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and our bags.

“Excuse me!” I heard a female voice from the opposite side of the pool call out. I hesitated. I was trying not to cry. Reluctantly, I looked up and met her eyes. The woman was walking toward us with gusto, arms swinging.

“Bravo, mama! Bra-vo! No one here will say this to you,” she said, as she gestured toward my silent audience with one hand, “but you are doing the right thing. You’ve got this! Good job, Mom!” And then, she started to clap her hands. She applauded my parenting at one of my lowest parenting moments to date.

I thanked her. She had validated my parenting when I was questioning it and feeling small.

“Thank you,” I mouthed again, for my words were now gone. She nodded and turned on her heels and walked away.

When I finally made it back to my car and managed to get the kids clipped into their car seats, I put my head to the steering wheel and did the ugly pregnancy cry thing. I realized I had been feeling quite alone with this spirited, strong-willed 3-year-old. On this day, I felt supported and was extremely grateful for that woman’s words. I wanted to go back to thank her properly, but my son was still melting down in his seat and I was far too emotional to be coherent.

Do you know how often I think of that stranger and her kindness? It has been five years, but I think of her all the time.

I think of her when I’m in Target and someone’s kid is “acting up.”

I think of her when I am checking out at the grocery store and the mom with four “whiny” kids in tow is behind me; I see that look in the mom’s eyes and I know she’s struggling to hold it all together.

I think of her every single time I see a pregnant woman managing toddlers.

I think of her when the frazzled looking mom in the minivan cuts me off and then apologizes with a wave. I can see the ruckus going on in her backseat. I know how loud it must be in her car, how difficult it must be to think, let alone drive.

I think of her when I see a mom whisking her crying child out of mass on Sundays.

I think of her every time I see a child “pitching a fit” or a mother who looks exhausted.

We have all been there, haven’t we? And some of us have been there more than others.

Do you know what? I always say something now. Always. And, if I can’t say something due to distance or whatnot, I make eye contact and send that mom a genuine you’ve got this smile. I know how much a kind word can mean in a dark moment, and I know kind words are contagious. They can alter behavior.

I don’t know where the woman from the pool is today. I wish I could thank her. I wish I could let her know the words she spoke to me on that day changed me and my behavior, forever. Thanks to her, I am not fumbling with my purse, trying not to notice the elephant in the room. Now, I know better.

As kids, we were taught if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. I’d like to add an addendum to that saying for all the mamas out there:

If you are thinking kind thoughts, always share them. If you have something nice you could say, say it.

Think about how lovely this world would be if everyone poured forth all the kind thoughts and observations that they keep in the silence of their minds.

Follow this journey on My Little Poppies.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected act of kindness, big or small, that you’ve experienced or witnessed in an everyday place. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead image: Thinkstock images


We went to Las Vegas for spring break to see the Blue Man Group. I had heard great things about the show in my parent support groups, so I thought it would be the perfect show for my kidsMy daughter Ashlynn has a formal diagnosis of sensory processing disorder (SPD).  My son is not formally diagnosed, but he has sensory issues.

Many kids with SPD can become overstimulated to the point of total meltdown. Stimuli, whether visual, auditory, tactile or any combination of the above, can completely overwhelm a child with SPD. To make it all the more complicated, each child is unique in their sensory profile. For example, many kids (like my son), are extremely sensitive to tactile (touch) stimuli. They’re the kids who may complain about a clothing tag or rip off clothing because it hurts. I’m not an occupational therapist, but from my understanding, this is considered “over-responsive.”

Ashlynn is actually the opposite in the tactile department, and I’ve found many kids with global apraxia tend to have her presentation. She’s actually “under-responsive.” Ashlynn is the toughest chick I know. She looks sweet, right? She is, but I have seen this kid get goose eggs, have blood literally running down her leg and even accidentally get a tourniquet from a hair wrapped around her toe, and she has never cried. Heck, she didn’t even whimper. This has gotten better as she has matured, but let’s just say if Ashlynn is in pain, I come running because it must be bad.

The opposite, though, is true regarding visual and auditory stimuli. She’s definitely over-responsive. Any visual or auditory stimuli completely distracts her. This is especially true if it’s stimuli she hasn’t yet experienced.

Two of her speech-language pathologists (SLPs) have told me “she needs to take everything in.” Unfortunately, this has an impact on her attention. Despite this, she’s never been so overwhelmed to the point of total meltdown. SPD is commonly associated with autism, and some children with autism can get so overwhelmed that they have complete behavioral meltdowns. Ashlynn has meltdowns, but they are manageable.

So what does all this have to do with The Blue Man Group? Well, I saw that they were going to create an autism-friendly show.

So, long story short, I figured this show was a win-win. I was surprised, though, when Ashlynn started asking me if it was time to go back to the hotel. She looked distressed each time she asked. The show switches activities a lot. She would acclimate to one activity and be OK, but when it switched, she would be back to distressed mode. Then I did something I’ve never done with her: I covered her ears with my hands. She instantly relaxed in my arms, so I held them there.

It had only been about five minutes when my husband, looking confused, handed me a pack of earplugs. He said he was told to just pass them down. I smiled and put them in Ashlynn’s ears. They were perfect. She enjoyed the rest of the show without incident. I literally wanted to kiss whoever gave those to her.

I didn’t know if it was a parent or a staff member who gave us the earplugs until after the show. I asked my husband, and he verified it was a staffer who asked everyone to pass them down our way. I almost teared up on the spot. Who noticed that? Who took action? Are they always prepared for that? Is this why they have a great reputation with kids with special needs? I had so many unanswered questions.

At the end of the show, we had a chance to take pictures with one of the Blue Man Group performers. They don’t talk, even after the show. I’m sure he saw the earplugs in her ears, and even though he stood when he was with the other kids, he immediately knelt down when he saw Ashlynn. And he stayed there.

I was trying to get a good picture, but as her SLPs would say, “She was taking it all in.” She kept staring at him and never looked at me or my camera. He let her. He was kind and patient. Others wanted their photo op, but he never hurried us along. He wanted her to feel safe. He wanted her to understand. He wanted her to take it all in and not feel pressured.

Laura Smith’s smith with a Blue Man Group performer.

He seemed to know how important it was for me to get a good picture, and no one else seemed to matter during the time he was with her. Because of his kindness, I didn’t even care anymore that she didn’t look at the camera.

It was just a beautiful moment, and that’s what I wanted to capture. After this experience they are my new favorite. I truly can’t say enough.

Follow this journey on SLP Mommy of Apraxia.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

You know that feeling of irritation you get if the tag on the back of your brand new T-shirt is scratching up against your skin? It bothers you until you take the shirt off and take scissors to it, or it drives you to just rip the it off completely, not even bothered if you end up leaving a hole in your new shirt.

What about that pair of socks you thought would fit and feel just right, and half way through your day, you realize they do not feel or fit just right and you are taking them off in a frenzy so you can feel free and breathe.

And then there’s that feeling of having someone put their hand on your back, or trying to hold your hand, wanting to hug you, or even kiss you — it actually hurts you, and you can’t explain it, you just can’t. So you avoid affection because that is your way of protecting yourself from the pain of human touch.

How do I explain this to my beautiful little girl? She’s 4 years old and I didn’t know how to explain it to her. How do I explain it to her in a way she would understand? How do I explain her younger sister has sensory processing disorder?

Zoey is 3 years old, she’s diagnosed with autism, global delay, ADHD, dyspraxia of speech and sensory processing disorder.

That is hard enough for me to understand, never mind my 4-year-old understanding it.

I put it off, and I would say to her that her sister is “different,” and that “different” isn’t bad.

That explained nothing. I was taking the easy way out. She watched as her younger sister had a year of intensive in-home therapies with multiple therapists, all of them with their own special bag of toys, all coming to play with her little sister. My big girl watched, and every day said, “What about me?” I saw the sadness in her eyes, and I watched as my big girl was feeling left out and confused.

She watched as her little sister got so much more attention, and she started to regress herself because “What about me?” was how she felt, and if she was “different” like her little sister then she would get to have all the extra attention and play with all of the therapists’ special toys.

I had no idea what to say, what to do, or how to help them both. I needed to help them both. I took my big girl aside one night and we had a talk in her room, just her and I. I was not sure how this talk was going to go, but it was time to explain it to her in a “different” way.

I looked at my beautiful 4-year-old and I said, “You know how you have “itchies” on your arms and legs (eczema) and they bother you so much that you scratch them until they feel better, but they don’t ever really feel better until Mommy gives you lotion to help?”

My big girl looked up at me and she said, “Yes, those itchies hurt so bad, and I scratch and scratch and it doesn’t feel better until you help me.”

I said, “Yeah, I help you to make those ‘itchies’ not itch so bad. Your ‘itchies’ are on the outside, and we can see them and we know where they are. Well, sissy’s ‘itchies’ are on the inside, and Mommy can’t see them, so I help her by giving her ‘squeezes’ (deep pressure message on her arms and legs) so she doesn’t itch so bad.”

I know that saying she’s “different” wasn’t working for us, and I finally found a way to explain sensory processing disorder to my beautiful big girl.

Follow this journey on Melissa’s Facebook page.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into “appropriate” responses, according to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation. A person with SPD may find it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks.

We asked people who live with SPD to share how they describe the condition to those who are unfamiliar with it or may not understand how they experience the world.

This is what they had to say:

1. “It’s like having the worst hangover you can imagine. The rustle of newspaper can make your ears buzz the same way they would if you were listening to really loud music. People talking can make you cringe because it sounds so loud. Sunlight can literally feel like you are blinded. At my worst, I cannot tolerate any light. It’s like your brain is going to explode because it can’t handle the stimulation. It’s really scary, upsetting and can make one very anxious.” — Hay Green


2. “It’s the tactile version of nails scratching on a board. [It] sets your teeth on edge, and whatever it is you touched you can still feel on your skin for hours like a sticky goo.” — Jessica Gray


3. “Suddenly everything is too loud, too bright, too much, and you just want to run to a dark, quiet corner to curl up in for hours.” — Sarah Whiting

4. “At its worst it feels as if you’re in a loud night club with strobe lights and 20 people are vying for your attention. They’re yelling, screaming, pulling at you, and your skin is raw and your mind is raw and it just keeps getting louder and faster until you feels like your brain is going to burst and you might go mad if you don’t escape.” — Sarah Emery Bradley


5. “All of the sensory input your mind normally tunes out can start to overwhelm your conscious mind. It’s like when you become aware of your blinking and notice every blink for a few seconds, but more extreme. Trying to push past the hyper-awareness of every noise and touch will take away any amount of patience and attention you had for what you were doing. It makes it very hard to interact ‘normally’ because you are so caught up in your own head.” — Elizabeth Engel

6. “Sudden, loud noises hurt me. Also, lots of chatter (like at parties or in the staff room) feel like jelly fish stings.” — Linda Yuill

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7. “[It’s like] living life on carnival row at a state fair.” — Dannette Funk

8. “It’s the violence of stuffing colors and lights into the head as well as violently shaking the body with sounds nonstop.” — Lee Laalaa


9. “In an overstimulating environment you feel like you just want to burst and run around screaming. I just want to touch everything or do something with my hands over and over to distract me” — Gianna Winters

10. “It’s like having a migraine that never ends.” — Ella Schwartzenberger


11. “[It’s] like there are a million and one things going on all at once and no way to stop it.” — Randi Rose

12. “It feels like someone else took control of your body.” — Casey Kolb

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13. “It’s like everything is amplified and I can’t hit the pause or stop button.” — Emilyanne Wachter

14. “It’s like everything is louder, brighter, smellier, like you’re so drunk your balance is off, and you don’t know where you end and the rest of the world begins. Everything comes at you all at once, and it all jams up and you can’t do anything.” — Vanessa Blevins

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If you have sensory processing disorder, how would you explain what it feels like to someone who is unfamiliar? Let us know in the comments below.

Related: 21 People Describe What Sensory Overload Feels Like

“Yeeuup,” my son Von squeals as he looks at me. I see him bend his knees and bounce on his feet without them leaving the ground. He takes two steps forward. He looks over at me and says again, “Yeeeuup, Mommy.” I watch him repeat the movement five or six more times. He is laughing and smiling from ear to ear. Suddenly he runs across the floor and lets out a huge scream. He throws himself on to the ground, and he looks at me and says, “I’m falling, Mommy.” IMG_3634

I watch him so closely, and there are many things that flood my mind. Watching him become so physical has been a gift better than I had ever known. Watching the determination in his eyes as he bends those knees and attempts to lift his feet is amazing to see. It is in these moments that I realize nothing for Von is impossible.

When I walked in to a outpatient occupational therapy clinic last spring, it was apparent to me that Von was behind. As we evaluated his progress, we knew we needed to get Von help with his fine and gross motor skills.When we walked in to this clinic, this sweet, bubbly woman with tightly curled blonde hair approached us with a warm smile. She looked at Von and said, “You must be Von.” He smiled at her and ran to the cars he saw in the box just behind the chair. Then Von moved to the trampoline, then to the swing, the wall, the play kitchen and the table, and I realized he just never stopped moving.

She looked at me and said, “Do you see how intentional he is in exploring this room?” I had no idea what she meant, but as I watched him, I watched a little boy appear incredibly overwhelmed by his surroundings. He needed to touch, feel and explore every single corner. There was nothing left untouched in the room by the time he stopped. She looked at me and said, “Have you ever heard of sensory processing disorder?” I responded, “No, I don’t know what that is.” She explained to me that it is when the child is overwhelmed by sensory stimulation, and they are either compelled to seek or avoid it. It was a disorder where the sensory stimuli becomes so intense, it affects the day-to-day interactions of the child with their environment. Sensory processing disorder can affect a child’s ability to socialize, speak and move. She looked at me and said, “If I do an evaluation of him, I’m most certain he has sensory processing disorder. It’s more than likely impacting every aspect of his life right now. This could be one of the reasons he’s behind in other areas.”

There were a lot of things I was prepared for in being Von’s mom with his medical diagnosis, but this was hard to comprehend in that moment. I could not fathom how I was going to help my child who was very sick and also had a disorder that impacted his ability to function with the world. My heart sank, and I imagined a completely different life. We went to the therapy to seek help with fine motor evaluation, but we left with a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder.


We jumped in to sensory integration therapy. His therapists worked with him on balance, finger dexterity and helping him manage his need to move. Von is what the therapists call a movement seeker. In clinical terms, he’s seeks vestibular movement. We are constantly working around the clock to fill his need to move, swing, jump, climb and fall. As we have integrated swings, slides, rocking chairs, sleds and bouncing balls in to his life, Von has been able to refocus and learn to speak. He works on his flashcards for speech while on the swings. After four months of speech and sensory integration therapy, Von started to speak. It was the most amazing feeling I’ve experienced. I don’t even care that now Von is pretty bossy.

There are still mountains to climb. However, day by day, Von takes steps forward as we work through all his therapy. Therapy is fun for Von. He goes to see his best girls at the clinic and always comes home with the happiest smile. This disorder has proven to be just another part of Von. He has tremendous determination and a will to learn, grow and explore the world. While I was scared about what it would mean, now I know it simply means we do things a bit differently than other families. It means we work harder to help him manage and master his skills, and it means that he has fun crashing, “yeuping” and falling.

Follow this journey on Without a Crystal Ball and Von’s Super Hero Facebook page.

Sensory overload happens when too much sensory stimulus is occurring at once — it can be triggered by a crowded room, a TV turned up too loud, strong aromas, fluorescent lighting — or a hundred other things. It’s often associated with certain diagnoses like autism, sensory processing disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, although anyone can experience it.

Sensory overload can be overwhelming, scary and exhausting, and may require a person to separate him or herself from a situation, perform a calming ritual or in some cases, melt down. It’s a hard experience to understand unless you’ve felt it. So, we asked our readers who’ve experienced sensory overload to describe what it’s like.

This is what they had to say:

1. “Do you remember the movie ‘Bruce Almighty’? He was receiving prayer requests by hearing them in his head as they occurred, hundreds at a time. They became jumbled, and he became frustrated and couldn’t make sense of any of them. Sensory overload is like that. Everything is coming at me at once, but it seems I’m the only one noticing. I can hear my heartbeat, I can feel the heat of the lamps, I can’t function. I’m frozen, stuck. It usually takes a shock to get me back from this, like a touch if I’m not being touched, or a change of environment or cold water on my skin.” — Meredith Lime

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2. “Sometimes it just feels like you need everything around you to pause… It’s like a bunch of things occurring while a bunch of other things are approaching at the same time — like a spinning room.” — TwoMlln Thghts AndCntg

3. “During an auditory overload, just about every sound can feel like someone took a microphone to it and set it on full blast.” — Chelle Neufeld

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4. “I hear everything when in sensory overload. But it’s not as if I can hear what is being said; rather it is just many, many sounds, unfiltered and loud. It feels like sounds are coming at me from every direction. Lights from all directions also seem to glare in my eyes. Sensory overload is horrible.” — Laura Seil Ruszczyk

5. “It’s like when your computer freezes because there are too many tasks open or a task is stuck. And your brain hits ‘Ctrl-Alt-Del’ automatically. In my case, this means sudden fatigue, balance problems, speaking problems, disorientation.” — Zahra Khan

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6. “Too much, noise, lights, sensation, all bombarding my body. [I] cannot stop feeling all of it and can’t shut it off… Your normal filters cease to work, you can’t stop hearing the sounds, talking, cars, etc., can’t stop seeing the lights, colors, can’t stop feeling it all so intensely.” — Susan Coughlin Broad

7. “I would explain it as walking into an amusement park with eight young kids on a hot summer day. Imagine all the senses you would be feeling at that time — hot, sticky, screaming kids all wanting to do different things, noises coming from all different places, music from all the rides, voices, babies crying, noises from all the rides.” — Frankie Hathaway

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8. “I hear both everything and nothing at the same time. It feels like you are surrounded by a circular wall and all the walls are folding in on themselves at once.” — Jana Young

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9. “Imagine walking into a room filled with 25 72-inch flat-screen TVs that all have super-high definition and surround sound, but they’re all playing different movies. On full blast. At the same time. And the door is locked, so you can’t get out. Feeling anxious? Now imagine getting the same reaction just from being at the grocery store and having to drive home with your infant in the backseat. Yeah, that’s what it’s like.” — Jenalyn Cloward Barton

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10. “It feels like being trapped on a merry-go-round. All the lights and sounds come and go so quickly you can’t make sense of any of it. You’re up and then you’re down. No matter what you can’t get off. You have to wait for the ride to be over.” — Hailey Remigio

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11. “Sensory overload for me is hearing sounds from all directions and wanting to jump out of my skin because of it. My worst experience involved a television show, rain and wind outside, my husband’s laughter and my son telling me he loved me. I was feeling the sounds in every inch of my body, and it physically hurt me. I felt as if I had hot pokers up and down my spine with cactuses being pushed into my palms with a side of sandpaper down my throat. The only relief came when I left the room for a few minutes to escape and decompress.” — Rea Ball

12. “Imagine being tied to the front of a freight train during a hurricane with an iPod on the highest volume of the most annoying song you know.” — Melanie Johanson

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13. “It feels as though I’m trapped and restricted in a glass case that I can’t escape, and the overwhelming fear and anxiety climbs up my body and throat in an almost suffocating way. All I can think to do is escape.” — Laura Spoerl

14. “Sensory overload feels like, for me, everything is crawling. My skin is crawling, noises feel like they are crawling in and out of my ears, blood is skittering out of my heart, air is crawling out of my lungs and racing up and down my throat.” — Janette Luyk Postma

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15. “It feels like my head is like a cup of hot water. My whole body starts to overheat, and every question from a co-worker, student or even the phone ringing is like more water being added to the cup. Obviously the cup starts to overflow, and I can’t take any more. I have to step away, get air, lean against a wall. And I never notice there is a problem brewing until it is too late.” — Virginia Wilson

16. “I tell people that it’s like taking a bite of cake, but, instead of simply enjoying the cake, your brain decides that it needs to identify every single ingredient/texture/flavor of the cake all at exactly the same moment. That’s what sensory overload is like for me — my brain picking apart the general ‘din’ into individual bits of stimuli while trying to process each bit individually all at exactly the same moment.” — Kristy Steele Rose

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17. “Imagine standing in the middle of a large dance floor, music blasting and dozens of people dancing wildly around you. Now imagine that the lights are being turned on and off with no pattern or warning at all. You glance through the crowd to find someone across the room who is waving at you and saying something to you, but you can’t hear them. You can tell from their gestures and their facial expression that what they’re saying is important, but you can’t focus long enough to grasp their words. Every emotion a person can have floods your mind — anger, fear, resentment, sadness, hopelessness. But your feet are glued to the dance floor. There’s no escape, and no one around you sees what you see — chaos and doom.” — Jill Toler

18. “It’s like being underwater at the beach while the waves wash away your thoughts. You’re struggling to catch a breath, but every time you are able to reach the surface, you are struck by another wave and you can’t organize a coherent thought. You can’t get on top of it and you start to panic.” — Sam Gee

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19. “Imagine opening a door, and through it you think will be a peaceful valley with rolling hills, trees, birds and not a soul around, but when you take that first step you are then falling down from an airplane with no parachute.” — Genevieve Geehan

20. “[It’s] like being inside a pinball machine.” — Ali Canellas Carlton

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21. “Every sense you have is already naturally exaggerated, and an overload is having every sense explode beyond anything tolerable. Every sound is a deafening explosion, every light like a flash of a bomb, every sense at the extreme. As a result your brain starts to panic, and all it acknowledges is the senses and how strong they are… It’s an incredibly painful experience and its something I have come to fear.” — Hallie Ervin

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How would you describe sensory overload? Let us know in the comments below.

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