From Discomfort to Discombobulation
It's one thing to dislike something, even to the point of strenuous avoidance, and another to melt into a screaming, unreachable tantrum when faced with that item or experience. Children with sensory integration disorder may have extreme reactions — intense fearfulness, unbreakable resistance, complete breakdowns, and obsessive drives.
For them, poor sensory processing is not a source of discomfort or displeasure; it's a matter of life and death. In their fun house world, things are so disorganized and difficult to make sense of that they abandon everything to find a comfort zone, or abandon all hope of finding one. What looks to you like defiant or heedless behavior feels to your child like the necessities of survival.
Think of how you feel when you have a bad cold that stops up your ears and affects your balance. That sensation of mild vertigo impacts you in a number of ways. You may feel sick to your stomach. You may get a headache. You may decide to stay home, crawl in bed, and remain as immobile as possible until you feel like yourself.
But what if you felt like that all the time, and had no explanation for it? Would you be able to operate at a normal brisk pace and optimal alertness? Or would your actions be slow and deliberate, your attention focused on keeping your body and brain together, your most ardent desire to lie down and make the world stop turning?
Your child with sensory integration disorder may be in that very position. Her body doesn't feel right. She may not be able to verbalize this because it is the only reality she's known. She may want very much to please you and to do things the way they're supposed to be done.
But just as a desire to be back to normal isn't going to make your cold go away, a desire to please her parents isn't going to magically allow your child to process the world in an accurate way. At some point, she will always have to do what she feels is necessary to bring the world into some sort of manageable balance.
That may mean jumping up and down, hard, to activate a balky proprioceptive system. It may mean lying down or twirling around to handle vestibular input. It may mean screaming in fear when a faulty tactile sense indicates attack, or ignoring messages that a lazy auditory sense never delivers. It may, sometimes, just mean losing it and having a good tantrum. If you've ever descended into anger and self-pity over the flu, an accident, or an illness that robbed you of control, you know how she feels.