Why I Don’t Want To Go To Church: Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload

Hi, this is Stevie. Today I am staying home from church.  I used to like going to church and playing on the airplane.  They have a real airplane that they put together inside the room and I loved it. I would bring my Leap Pad with me and make movies in the airplane.  But then I got overly excited and threw the Leap Pad from the plane and it broke.  I could have hurt people when I did that, but I didn't think of that at the time, I just was having fun. I wanted to record the sound of a crash as it landed. It is one of my favorite sounds.

Well, that day everything changed. I don't like change. I wasn't allowed to bring electronics anymore, because they were afraid someone would get hurt.  So I didn't have my comfort toy anymore. I was using it to focus on so I could block out everything going on around me. Without my comfort toy, I just couldn't find a way to cope with everything happening all at once. 

They also got someone to help me at church so I could go and someone would be able to makes sure I was safe. He is a really nice person. He plays guitar and I really like that.  They also wanted me to be able to participate in the lesson but I found it too hard--not the lesson part but the participate part.  There are a lot of kids that are in my room. It is a huge room but all the kids from Kindergarten to 5th grade are there at the same time.

They can be really loud and sometimes it is too much. It is like the sound is everywhere all at once and reaches through my ears to my insides and echoes and vibrates there. Sometimes it hurts, too. It is like being underwater and unable to swim to the top to reach for air.  But instead of underwater, I am under sound.  Sometimes there is no way up and I just crumble under the pressure of the sound. Sometimes I run out of the area to get to calmer space. And sometimes, sometimes I try to beat it. I try to be louder than the sound around me. Sometimes that makes me rise up above it like a helium balloon rises about the room air.  I don't like that feeling.  

I really don't like it when I feel that way and try to cope the way I know how to, and then all the grown ups freak out on me! They start calling out to me, "Stevie! Come back!"  or "Stevie, you are too loud! Keep your voice down." or sometimes they are scared when I am crumbling and they don't know what to say.  Usually at that point, I am having what doctors call a panic attack because I can't get my head above the noise or movement and I fear I am drowning. I just need to get out when that happens but sometimes I can't move because my body is stuck in fear. I need my Daddy to carry me out when that happens. Once I am in a safe place again, I calm right down and I can play again. 

Besides the sound trying to overpower me and gulp me up, there are so many people there and they are all moving or running around. I never know where the kids will end up or where they are going to, so I don't know what I should do, where I should be so they don't run into me. Sometimes there is so many people moving around that I just want to hide somewhere...to be alone and stop the constant motion around me. I guess it kind of makes me feel like you would feel, if you were car sick.  I like car rides though.

Car rides are different because I stay still in my seat while the whole car moves and usually it moves at the same speed.  And other cars are on the road driving in front of me or behind me, or beside me. Sometimes they are going the other way but  everyone is driving at the same pace and in a way that makes sense. There is order to it.  In the classroom, there is no order. Kids are just moving fast in an unpredictable manner.  I like predictable.

Well, that is my story, of why I don't want to go to church today. Maybe some day I will try it again but today I just keep telling my mom, "No, no church please?"

(This was written by my mom, to the best of her ability to understand me. She really hopes that one day I will be able to write things like this all by myself, so others can understand me better.  I like it when people understand me.) 

Disclaimer: The way Stevie may feel as portrayed in this blog in no way reflects reality. His Sunday School class is awesome, led by incredibly gifted and loving people who would never cause an unsafe place for anyone, and would never "freak out" or in any way yell at anyone.  They have bent over backwards to make "church" work for Stevie and the other kids at church. I could not ask for a better place to worship or bring my kids to learn about God. This was written from a sensory point of view, as we assume Stevie may perceive things as they happen, not as they actually happen.


Getting Caught

One of the first things I remember thinking was a little odd regarding my older son, is that he didn't seem to be aware of my coming into a room, or leaving it. He was immersed in doing whatever he was doing--usually involving close inspection of electrical outlets, or opening and closing a cabinet door--that he just wasn't aware.

It wasn't that he didn't care if I was there or not, he very much did.

I remember one time when we had him and his twin sister stay at a friends house for a few hours while we went out to eat (those were the good ole days).

Sage was having so much fun discovering all there was to discover with the giant fluffy couch and shades, that he didn't respond when we said, "Goodbye!", even after multiple attempts.

While Sage was busy checking out the new house, Hope ran to us, crying, and didn't want us to leave her.

We didn't think Sage cared if we left or not.

The babysitters later told us that about 45 minutes after we left, he started crying and would not calm down, until we arrived.

It was not an attachment issue, as some writings on autism may lead you to believe. It was simply that he wasn't aware of what was going on in his surroundings.  Although he could hear the auditory information around him, he had no way to process it in a meaningful way.

He acted as if he were deaf.  For all practical purposes, he was.

Stevie was the same way as Sage, but he did have a hearing problem.  He had fluid in his ears for the 2nd year of life, and didn't have the opportunity to learn how to process sound until tubes were in place.

With our baby girl, now 15 months of age, I see the extreme opposite in her behavior.

The other day  while Joy was sleeping, I decided to sneak out and get my day started.

I gingerly step past her, walking down the stairs avoiding all the previously discovered squeaky planks, to the bathroom to take my shower.

By the time I was done, she was awake and up, playing happily in the kitchen.

In my attempt to be sneaky, I'd forgotten to bring clean clothes down, but on the couch was the fresh pile of clean laundry (the ONE pile next to the massive number of loads yet to do) so I figured I'd be real quiet and grab some clean clothes while she was in the kitchen.

In the past, as long as I could avoid eye contact with the little ones, I could get away with something like this.

But not with her!

She saw me quietly walk out and she trotted her little self quickly over to me, her foot patterns reminding me of my mother-in-law adding all that extra cuteness to the moment.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

She didn't stop there though.  She walked around from behind me, to right in front of me. She looked up at me and lifted her arms for me to pick her up with that "Here I am!" expression on her adorable face.

In that moment, I decided to wear my pajamas a wee bit longer.  Clothes could wait; picking up my darling became the only thing on my agenda.

Joy confidently sought me out. She was aware of my 'comings and goings'.  Even when I was trying to hide it; she was intensely interested in finding me.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:16)

Oftentimes we try to sneak around or hide from God so we can get what we want to do finished before He finds us.

But He knows, He sees. He is ever-watching, always aware of our every move. And even so, he passionately seeks us out to capture our attention--not because he needs something from us, but purely because he loves us and wants us to engage with Him.

Like Sage, we often care very much about God  and want to give him our attention, but we are distracted by the other things in life.  The distractions block our attention, so we aren't aware of the voice of God, calling for us to come to Him.

Or, maybe some of what God is saying to us does gets through, but we have not learned how to process it in a meaningful way.

Distractions are the fluid that blocks our hearing.

When God is trying to get our attention, we have to learn to process his voice as meaningful information.  Do we respond to Him?

Or, are our ears filled with distractions, needing tubes to drain away the extraneous auditory stimulation, vying for our attention, so we are able to hear what is important?

We may need surgery to put tubes in our ears, but it will be worth it.  He is chasing us down, like Joy chases me down, seeking us out to deepen our intensely desired relationship with Him.

Have you been caught by God?

Psalm 139: 1-12

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.