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Why Alphabet Soup?

Alphabet Soup illustration

Consider this: *ASD, ADHD, LD, SPD, ODD and so on. Looks like Alphabet Soup to me! These are just a few of the acronyms or labels floating around that all have their roots in how our basic operating system, the central nervous system (CNS), operates. People have referred to this using the technology metaphor of having either a PC or a MAC operating system. Nothing wrong or better with either system and they both produce the same results, they just operate differently. There are lots of variations in our human nervous systems. Some have profound effects in how we function in the world and others are so minor that we barely notice them. So what makes us tick?

If we are going to discuss neurological diversity, it makes sense to begin with how the neurological system works in general terms before we try to explore the variations.

In very simple terms, we have a central nervous system that in includes our brain and spinal cord. We also have a network of nerves that originate from the spinal cord that operate as outputs (motor) and inputs (sensory). The sensory nerves pick up information and relay it back to the spinal cord and on to the brain. The brain can also send messages back through another network of nerves that causes action. These are the motor nerves. For example, if you touch a hot stove, the input or sensory nerves relay the message of HOT to our spinal cord in the central nervous system and there is rapid command of MOVE sent to your muscles so that you pull your hand away. In this instance, there isn’t much brain activity because it’s a reflex movement but it’s a good example of the coordinated effort between the sensory system, CNS and motor system.

We are all familiar with our five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. We also have internal senses called interoception, proprioception and vestibular sense- more on those senses later.

We often presume that everyone experiences the sensory world in the same way but this not actually the case. Some people will experience a sound as exquisitely painful while for another, it is barely discernible or for someone else, it is beautiful music. A clothing tag or the tightness of a waist band might not be something you notice but for another person it may be a physical irritation that distracts them to the point where they can think of nothing else. All this to say there is no single way to experience the sensory signals that surround us all day long. It all depends on how our nervous system is built and how it functions.

This series of posts will explore each of our senses in depth along with variations. Why is this important? If your experience of the sensory world is different from the norm, chances are you have moments where you feel overwhelmed or misunderstood. If you are part of the norm, you may have no idea of how intensely someone else is feeling; which makes it hard to understand what seems like strange and unpredictable behaviour that stems from a need to defend against sensory overwhelm. Let’s get to know each other better! We’re actually way more alike than we are different.

* Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Learning Disability, Sensory Processing Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Posted on: January 23, 2019