Raging Bull: Sensory Integration Issues
The other night my wife and I were watching Raging Bull (for which she deserves the Wife Of The Year award). Toward the end of the film, Jake LaMotta is tossed into prison and he starts beating his head against the wall and furiously punching the bricks, crying “What’d I do? What’d I do? I’m not a bad guy! I’m not a bad guy!” It’s a really intense scene and, right in the middle of it, my wife says, “I wonder if he had sensory integration issues.” I immediately wondered if the film was just a ploy to talk with me about parenting. Whether the conversation was pre-meditated or not, she taught me enough to perk my interest. I did a little more digging and thought I’d share some of what I learned.
What is Sensory Integration? Why should I care?
My parenting style is largely responsive. My kids do something I perceive as good or bad, and I respond in kind. I’m beginning to learn that some of the behaviors I perceive as bad may be things out of my child’s control.
If a child’s brain is exposed to alcohol, drugs, or even high levels of stress (like deciding whether or not to parent this child, for instance) from the mother during her pregnancy, those substances and/or stress can affect the parts of the brain that organize the senses. This goes beyond just the five senses we’re all familiar with (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) and includes tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses.
When the development of a child’s senses is interrupted, they may have a difficult time integrating those sensory activities in the way we expect them to. For example, you may have a kid who likes to whack things (or even people). Maybe she gets like a bull in a china shop—throwing herself into furniture or walls (or even people). At first glance, that’s just an aggressive and possibly even violent child. My daughter exhibits some of that behavior and I had know idea how to discipline her (read: I didn’t know how to respond).
After some light education, I have some tools to help me be more proactive. Now, if I see she’s getting riled up, I ask if she needs a “rub-down.” “Yes, daddy. I need a wub-down.” Depending on where we’re at, I’ll either lay her on a couch or holder close and apply some heavy-pressure to her body in the form of aggressive rubbing – kind of like a vigorous massage. This kind of sensory activity mellows her out considerably.
The crazy thing is, the more I dug into this stuff, the more I started realizing I probably have some sensory integration issues myself. I think a lot of people do, but we’re so prone to just punishing bad behavior that we’ve never been afforded the opportunity to actually work through some of this stuff, whether with our children or for ourselves.
Here’s your opportunity to be more proactive.
The following is a list of resources on sensory integration, including all kinds of pragmatic checklists and practical to-dos…