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Life with Li-Li

Children’s author discusses living with sensory issues

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Gin Noon Spaulding’s little girl wasn’t always like other kids. Her daughter Maleah, or Li-Li, liked the same things other children like – playing on bouncy toys and getting candy from her aunties in church. But she also got easily overwhelmed and overstimulated by too much noise or activity.

“My daughter, she had sensory issues and then a speech delay when she was little,” the Louisville based author explained.

Though Maleah has learned to cope with her issues as an adult, and is now studying to be an aerospace engineer, there were challenges with raising her that Spaulding wasn’t expecting and didn’t always know how to approach. So, when she decided to write a series of children’s books, she knew she wanted them to focus on these types of struggles.

“Each book is about a different sensory issue,” she explained. “I wrote the kind of books that I would have liked to have read when I was going through all of that.”

“My husband and I… we were just clueless,” she continued.

But not anymore. Today Spaulding – who brought her book series to the Olive Hill library for a reading last week – has a better grasp on the struggles her daughter was dealing with, and she hopes her books can not only provide strategies for parents and caretakers struggling to deal with those children, but give those children a character who experiences the same issues they go through.

“If you think of your five senses, you’re (potentially) oversensitive or under sensitive to the stimuli in your environment,” Spaulding said. “Think about nails on the chalk board. That bothers some and not others. Now imagine the lights are too bright, or are too dim. Or it could be the tag in the back of your shirt. Being in crowds. Your clothes are too loose, or too tight. Some people don’t like hugs and kisses.”

“And, you know what? I do believe we all have something – it doesn’t always rise to a diagnosis – but we all have something,” she added. “Some people don’t like their food touching. Some people don’t like the way their socks feel.”

These are all different sensory issues, some of which a parent who isn’t sensitive to those things may not even consider. But it doesn’t mean they don’t care, she said. Almost every parent wants to understand and support their child.

To help those parents understand, Spaulding does more than craft stories about the issues children with sensory issues experience. She gives solid examples.

“In the back of every book that I have, it has a checklist so parents can see the different symptoms. So, they can see if their child might have that sensory issue.”

Each of the five books covers a different sensory issue, but there is still room to cover more. In addition to our five main sense – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – there are what Spaulding calls hidden senses. One is proprioceptive, or the awareness of your body in space. The other related sense is vestibular, which is related to balance and movement.

Those two come into effect with kids who can’t sit still, and need to fidget or move, Spaulding explained. In her experience as an educator, she said, she found that kids with issues related to this sense might actually do better if they are allowed to play with a fidget toy or get up and move around.

If they are forced to sit still, she said, they actually comprehend less. The reason for this, she said, is that their concentration is focused on staying still and not moving rather than on the content of the class.

In the book based on these movement issues Li-Li is playing on a jumpy toy. It’s based on a real world experience, Spaulding said, where they were at a church event and – in order to cope with the people and other sensory overload – Li-Li was playing on a jumpy toy. It was fine, Spaulding said, until it was time for her to get off the toy. When she made her stop, she had what they call in the books a Li-Li Letdown, essentially a meltdown.

“In every book she either has a Li-Li Letdown, she’s thinking about a Li-Li Letdown, or she’s going to have a Li-Li Letdown; which is really like a meltdown,” Spaulding explained.

In the first book it’s because of too many people and the hugs her church aunties want to give her. In the second it’s about visual sensory issues, and a dislike for having her photograph taken. The third book relates to the jumpy toy issue, and the fourth, No Kiss, No Hug, relates to her anxiety about visiting her grandparents and all the unwanted touching she is anticipating.

The latest book in the series, and the one Spaulding shared at the Olive Hill library, is called It Stinks; a Christmas Story.

In that book Li-Li’s friend Matt, who experiences his own sensory issues, is running errands with Li-Li and her mom when the smell of cinnamon in the Christmas scents at an elderly acquaintance’s home causes him to have a meltdown over the aroma.

Spaulding said she hopes her books help people understand that sensory issues don’t mean children are being bad or acting out. It means they’re just trying to cope, and doing so in the best way they can. Like, she said, with the fidgeting some children need to do in order to focus.

“If we saw a blind person walking down the hall, touching the wall, we’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah!’ Because they’re trying to feel their place in the world,” she explained. “Well, there are sighted people that need to do that. Just like when you have your tooth removed and you’re touching your face, because you want to feel it. It’s the same thing. You’re tapping your foot, because you want to feel it. It’s the same thing. That’s why they’re touching the wall. ‘This is the wall, this is me.’”

The things people with sensory issues deal with are things we all might deal with at times. Being annoyed by too much noise, or too much quiet. Feeling the need to fidget and move. Being distracted by the feeling of our socks inside our shoes.

But most of us deal with it, or ignore it, and move on. It’s only when it impacts your ability to function that it becomes an issue.

“If you have a hard time functioning, and getting on with your life or your day (because of a sensory issue) you might want to get that checked out,” Spaulding said.

Otherwise, she encourages us to use our own experiences and empathy to help us understand how overwhelming and debilitating these sensory issues can be to someone who can’t ignore them.

While she’s enjoyed writing the Li-Li books, and will probably add more to the series, she said some of her fans have been asking her to consider writing a chapter book, for older children.

“I’m thinking about writing a chapter book about her being an astronaut that is not in the series, but is about Li-Li still. And then I also want to write… I’m thinking of next year, my next book in the series will be on sound.”

You can find It Stinks; A Christmas Story and all the books in the Li-LI series on Amazon, or directly from the author at her website www.GinNoonSpaulding.com. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter at GustGinLive, or on Facebook at GustGin. You can also find her on Goodreads and Walmart.com.

If you purchase a book directly from her at her website, however, she’ll personalize it for you.

“If you do purchase a book from my website, I will sign it and send it to you,” she said with a laugh. “That’s why I’d say my website’s the best.”

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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