Take an imaginary walk through the malls you usually frequent. Notice how every sound is magnified by the marble and concrete. If your shopping mall does not have high ceilings and loads and loads of plants, the noise can actually hurt some people’s ears and make them quite irritable. If the piped music they play in the various shops within the mall is music you enjoy, that helps considerably; but if it is music you do not enjoy, it simply adds to the cacophony. Another grenade in the attack!
Why on earth do the architects choose slippery, shiny marble flooring? Besides testing everyone’s gross motor skills in their slippery, fashionable shoes; marble reflects all the many lights. It reminds me of the strobe lights you get in clubs; especially when you are in a hurry and the lights flash past on all sides of you, including the floor!
I have seen mothers who have no choice but to take their young children shopping with them. The child becomes over-sensitised and fractious, Mum becomes embarrassed and more stressed. And before you know it, you have a Molotov cocktail and an almighty temper-tantrum is imminent.
Some of the wiser architects use high ceilings and mezzanine floors to allow some of the noise to dissipate and to let natural light in. I noticed with interest the other day that the one restaurant that has managed to stay full for the longest number of years in our local shopping mall, is situated directly under one of these high-ceiling “domes” and gets loads of natural light through the roof. I also noticed that it was set slightly sunken from the main passageway and had boarding all around it. This restaurant serves not only food, but respite from the sensory attack. It is constantly full of families with young children and elderly.
It is not only children with SPD who have difficulty with the war on our senses, waged by shopping malls in their bid to attract our attention; each shop trying to be more noticeable than its competitors. SPD children are just less equipped to push the negative impulses and
panic away. SPD children should actually be seen as our canaries in the coalmine of the shopping mall! When an SPD child reacts badly to the overpowering assault on his senses, we should look inwardly and we’ll notice that we too are not really comfortable. Our senses will have sent us into a state of raised adrenalin. Some of us will be pleased about that, we want to
feel an adrenalin boost and interpret it as a feeling of excitement. These are the ones of us who love shopping in malls. A quick sensory adrenaline fix. Others of us simply become mildly
irritated and try to get out of the mall as soon as possible. But I have seen both children and adults go into a sensory “shut-down”. I have watched highly competent adults become confused and seem to get lost easily; they take longer to make relatively simple decisions and sometimes even buy the wrong thing because their brains simply want to escape.
Our sensory systems are designed to take in nature and respond to it. We are designed to feel calm and contented in quiet, unthreatening, natural environments, where grass grows and the only light is a diffused blue in the sky, with perhaps some soft clouds drifting by. The noises that calm us are the songs of birds as they go happily about their daily work. As soon as the birds start shrieking or we hear noises that are out of natural resonance, our systems are designed to warn us of impending danger. When the wind no longer blows gently but whips the trees and clouds gather too quickly and thunder and lightening enter the fray, we are designed to take refuge. When our early ancestors heard noises that did not melt into a unison of comfort, those who didn’t learn to escape very quickly, found themselves in grave danger.
So we should think carefully about how we allow our architects to design our built environments. We need to get the message to architects, developers and the shops that so dearly want us to notice them and buy from them. And the message should be: build an environment that invites me gently, that allows my senses to feel calm, even replenished. If a young SPD child enters the environment you build and he is contented, if adults walk with
relaxed smiles on their faces, if people begin to mingle and chat to strangers in our human herd, then you know that you have designed and built a building to be proud of!
I leave you with this poem by William Henry Davies. A poem which reminds us of the importance of the quiet senses we need.
by William Henry Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare
You might also like other articles on SPD: HOMESCHOOLING IN OUR SENSORY WORLD ; "Heidi" - A Sensory Processing Review ; TEACH ME TO FLY ; SUMMER IN LONDON