When studying to become a therapist we learned Motor Learning Theory. What is Motor Learning? Here’s a summary from Wikipedia …
Motor learning is a change, resulting from practice or a novel experience, in the capability for responding. It often involves improving the smoothness and accuracy of movements (i.e. riding a horse or a bike) but it is also important for calibrating simple movements like reflexes, as parameters of the body and environment change over time. Motor learning research often considers variables such as the sensitivity of error-detection processes and strength of movement schemas (see motor program). Motor learning is “relatively permanent”, as the capability to respond appropriately is acquired and retained. As such, the main components underlying the behavioral approach to motor learning are structure of practice (manipulation of timing and organization of practice) and feedback given (preparation, anticipation, and guidance of movement).
I learned these pieces of information in college but it wasn’t easy to digest. Mainly because I had never experienced the truth of it in my own body. For someone with sensory processing issues, I can definitely assure you, practice DOES NOT make perfect.
Instead practice creates haphazard skills. There would be times when I played softball or shot archery or bowled or sat at the piano and you would be amazed and full of praise for my talent. And the next time it was as though I had no training or practice at all in those areas. This was very confusing to me growing up and created a sense of failure and a despondency about putting in the time or effort to practice anything … why bother when it didn’t make a difference.
And I certainly didn’t want anyone to come and watch my performances, I was riddled with anxiety wondering if the talented me would be there or the me that would flop. I had no control over which one showed up. But the unusual thing was that I never lost the compelling urge to play, I craved the play and the exploration, I just didn’t want to compete. Why would I? Who wants to be critically judged by others who don’t understand what’s really going on inside of you?
It was only when I learned about sensory integration theory in school in the mid-80’s that suddenly I had answers to the mystery that was me. I had vestibular processing issues, I had tactile processing issues, I had proprioceptive processing issues, I had dyspraxia. My brain was raw, it wasn’t fully connected in organizing the sensory input so it was also disorganized in the motor output.
There are many politics around sensory integration and sensory processing … is it a physical motor issue or is it a behavioral issue? I can testify that it is both and it is neither. There are both motor and behavioral symptoms but neither are the root cause of what is going on inside of me. I can’t be told to practice more, it doesn’t help. I can’t be told I need more motivation, because that will make me feel more frustrated and misunderstood.
It was 35 years ago when I finally found the answer that made sense of how I was experiencing the world. But it’s taken 35 years of exploration to find out how to best feel comfortable in the world as an adult with sensory processing issues. And I would bet that sensory processing is more than just a brain wiring issue.
First and foremost I worked for years to calm the constant overactive fight-flight response. On an energetic level survival stress is connected to the first chakra. And I have found the deepest root level healing happening as I’ve worked on using the emotional freedom technique and visualizations at the first chakra.
Fight-flight stress does many things to the body including affecting immune function, creating tight extensor muscles, impacting memory and learning, making a person have a hair-thin trigger and be jumpy to sounds and touch. All of those things go along with symptoms in sensory processing problems too. It’s no wonder there are medical-psychological politics on how this should be diagnosed.
But what about those of us who could care less about those politics and who don’t want a “diagnosis” … we just want understanding and some pro-active wellness strategies to get through our lives, cope in the world, and live with sensory sensitivity? Well, that’s been a big gray area, and it’s one I feel compelled to shine light on and will continue to address in these blog posts.
If you think you’ve been living with sensory sensitivity or you resonated that practice doesn’t make perfect, I’d love to hear your story! It’s important to address all the different angles on this topic and the individual experiences you have.