Our Journey Raising Two Children with Special Needs

This blog chronicles our life raising two children, Nicholas 14, diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome and Weston 17, diagnosed with Autism/Asperger's/ADHD. It's the ups, the downs, the joys, the sorrows and most importantly, the beauty of living a life less perfect, a life more meaningful.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Wiggly Super Sense of Smell

When he was 5 years old, my son Weston was diagnosed with ADHD.

In an effort to describe hyperactivity to a kindergartner, we nicknamed it, "The Wiggles". Weston related immediately to the term and felt relieved, I think, to find a positive word that helped him to describe how he was feeling.

Often, he will tell me,

"Mom, I just can't help it, today I feel so Wiggly."

Children diagnosed with ADHD are constantly reprimanded. Their high-energy, free-wheeling spirit is continually subdued in our rule-governed society. Because of this, children diagnosed with ADHD often see themselves and their condition as being inherently "bad'.

In an effort to help Weston create a more balanced and positive outlook of himself, we try to emphasize things that are good about having The Wiggles.

One of them, without a doubt, is Weston's heightened sense of smell. He is the first to smell someone, smoking, eating, farting (!) or wearing perfume. I am quite convinced that the smoke detectors in our house are completely unnecessary thanks to the overwhelmingly-sensitive olfactory senses of my son, Weston.

The worst school year Weston ever had was with a teacher who wore too much perfume, drank coffee and taught in a classroom directly across from the cafeteria.

Ironically, Dr Oliver Sachs, Neurologist and author of the book, Awakenings, observed that patients who were taking amphetamines (adhd medications) also exhibited this overwhelming increase in their sense of smell.

Temple Grandin, doctor, professor and best selling author who just happens to be diagnosed with autism, says most of us as have a type of "inattentional blindness". We are born with a type of brain filter that prevents the unnecessary flow of "the swirling mass of tiny details."

This brain filter enables us to instinctively block out noise, sights, sounds or smells that are distracting to us. While this filter enables us to work without interruption, it can also make us blind sometimes to the absurdly obvious.

Like Temple, my son Weston, also suffers from these heightened senses and an accompanying lack of any type of brain filter. He sees, hears, tastes, touches and smells better than the rest of us. So much so, that it can sometimes be physically painful for him.

If you are interested in learning more about Temple Grandin and her journey to better understand herself and her strengths as they relate to her diagnosis please watch this movie.

As for Weston, we encourage him to see his sensitive sniffer as a gift, an ability to discover what the rest of us cannot.