Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sensory Perspectives (by Kate Altman, M.S.)

Yesterday while I was driving around, running errands, I heard a short piece on NPR about a 73 year-old artist. She's a painter and sculpture known for working in vivid colors and textures. And she is blind and deaf. As she described how she "sees" the world (not in darkness, as people often assume, but a constant swirl of colors and images), I reflected on what it must be like to go through this life with a very different perspective from my own.

One of the wonderful things about working as a therapist is that I get at least a taste for what the world looks like, feels like, smells like, and so on, from my patients. I particularly love working with people on the spectrum, whose sensory experiences are often so different from my own. I realize that such sensory issues can often be uncomfortable and problematic, especially with children, but they can also be exciting and interesting. I always think about a boy I observed in his classroom while I was working with another child. His teachers often expressed sadness for the boy, who was nonverbal and did not appear particularly connected to the other children. But as I would watch him stroke the bumpy cinderblock walls of his classroom, raptly gaze at sunlight streaming through a window, run his fingertips over the smooth faux wood of his desktop, I could easily imagine that he was content and even constantly intrigued by the mundane classroom that no one else much noticed. Of course, I have no right to make any assumptions about what this boy was thinking or feeling, but the serene look on his face made me wish I could, at least for a moment, experience the world through his perspective. These days, we often talk about "mindfulness" as a way to manage stress and anxiety and increase our enjoyment of life. I would venture to guess that this boy lived in a naturally mindful state full of rich sensory experiences that many of us diminish or ignore. His life certainly is not easy and we can only speculate about what he thinks, but, like the blind and deaf artist, he experiences our world in a special and powerful way.

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