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What 'Tunnel Vision Effect' Is Like for Me as Someone With Sensory Processing Disorder

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Puzzle Pieces: It’s OK not to fit perfectly in this world, even if we want to be liked by everyone or to be “normal.” Be you, not what others expect you to be. People need to be willing to better understand us, and maybe that’s when their and our puzzle pieces perfectly align together. We are who we are, we fit perfectly in our own puzzle pieces. — Sara

“Tunnel Vision Effect”

I realized I can’t be out with so many people as I get what I call “tunnel vision effect,” and I’m unable to figure out what I (or Rufus my service dog) need, or how to communicate effectively to ask for help, under this effect.

It appears I look OK, externally, though internally I’m falling apart, into more broken puzzle pieces, but holding it together.

I wear my noise-canceling headphone when I venture out by myself or with friends. Some days I don’t need to wear it, but other times I do wear it as I know the places I visit will be loud. The noise-canceling headphone does help with external chaos at that moment, though my brain and body don’t react well when I get home from being out. I hold all my things together in public, but as soon I get home, I unravel faster than dripping water. No one sees me experiencing my falling apart for two or more hours at home.

I shut the world out while I’m stuck in this tunnel vision effect. I don’t let anyone into it, until now.

I have sensory processing disorder.

Here’s an example, in my own words or observations. I’ve been keeping track as I’m out with more than five people:

If you are in a group of five or more people (animals excluded), that’s what you might see in front of you and me. I see the same amount of people.

But this is where my perception changes for me internally: I see five (or more people), though multiply that to 100 to 500 (or more people). That’s the “tunnel vision effect” for me. Even though there is the same amount of people in front of you and me, internally I see more “people.”

Tunnel vision effect for me: Everything and everyone are moving so fast, even though everyone is sitting, standing or walking at a normal speed.

Then, let’s throw in people talking to each other into the mixture. It doesn’t matter if the individuals’ voices are loud or soft, near or far — everything is jumbled to me.

A train passing by you as you are trying to listen to the music on the radio. It cuts in and out, you feel the vibration of the train, and you see the rush of the train passing you.

I’m OK being out with another person or two, but if there are more in our group or strangers doing their own thing, I still experience what I call this “tunnel vision effect.”

I had the same experience when I took Rufus to MadeAllLocal event last weekend. It was a great experience to do this by myself. Yet, it was hard as I came to realize that I struggle staying focused, not veering into the tunnel vision effect.

I have been keeping track (documenting) when this “tunnel vision effect” occurs for me to determine the best way to cope or plan a way to ask for help.

I don’t enjoy it when I’m in this mode because it affects Rufus greatly. Yes, he’s a puppy, still in training, learning what he needs to do. But, again, he’s still young and we are figuring this aspect of training together. I get in this “tunnel vision effect,” and I’m unable to give him a verbal/physical command/task for him to jump on me.

This is where I need to figure a signal for him to watch for my nonverbal cues when I’m able to verbalize a task or commands to him. Rufus has instinctively taught himself to interrupt me when I start hitting myself in the head or face. Rufus will immediately jump onto me (even if he’s across the room) to help me redirect my focus onto him. Instantly, my mindset is redirected in a positive manner to focus on him. Rufus is extremely attuned to my emotions, and since September 2016, hitting myself has decreased along other issues I experienced.

This is what I experience not every day, though the majority of the time.

Rufus is excellent out with me as we go to many appointments throughout the week or visit stores that aren’t busy with many people.

This is my tunnel vision effect.

“Sometimes, we only want to see what is occurring in front of us, not what’s occurring within the person’s psyche or body. We can’t truly comprehend how they perceive the world or how their body reacts. Nevertheless, we can try our hardest to lend a supportive hand. To have someone understand a little is a step in the right direction for the future.” — Sara

Note: I have been training service dogs for clients. Now, I’m training a dog, Rufus, to become my service dog to assist me with my daily functions.

Sara with her service dog Rufus in front of a store aisle

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Originally published: April 19, 2017
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