In about 2006, I read several books on Sensory Processing Disorder. It turned out to be irrelevant to the real-life challenges I was facing at the time, but I still found the literature fascinating. I had already started thinking about brains; this gave me another angle for consideration.
Sensory Processing Disorder is, in essence, a difference in brain function, but it’s more complicated than I’m going to make it sound. I’m giving you the parts that interested me most. I encourage you to read more about it on your own. Knowledge is good!
The brain receives far more sensory stimulus than it can meaningfully handle. Right now, all your senses are potentially stimulated; there’s street noise in the background, the feel of your body in your clothing, an odd smell coming from somewhere behind the sofa, the decaying taste of whatever you last ate, and the position of yourself in space (proprioception). If you were intensely aware of all of these things all the time, it would be too much. In order for you to function in the world, your brain has to decide what’s relevant to you right now and what isn’t. Your brain rejects certain inputs as unimportant.
SPD brains prioritize differently. In the case of hypersensitivity, the sensory information is felt very intensely and won’t turn off. Think of the itchiest sweater you ever wore; now imagine that you were always aware of all the clothing on your body, and found it just that irritating. It can happen with any of the senses. Conversely, a brain with SPD might have hyposensitivity, wherein the brain doesn’t let much input at all get through. Sometimes kids with hyposensitivity will be stimulus seekers, making lots of loud noise, for example. Sometimes they’ll appear inattentive; sometimes they’ll fall out of chairs because they’re not aware of where their bodies are.
Any of these brain differences can be so extreme as to be debilitating and require theraputic interventions, but the intensity may fall anywhere along a spectrum. One can be hypersensitive in one area and hyposensitive in another.
I saw myself in these descriptions. I remembered being unable to look people in the eye as a child (a common symptom of visual hypersensitivity). The best analogy I can give you is that looking at faces was like stepping from darkness into a bright sunny day; it was so intense I could barely force my eyes open. I would sneak glimpses little by little until my eyes adjusted, and then I was ok. Conversely, I had terrible proprioception, and was always falling over and scraping my knees. My ability to walk in a straight line is due entirely to years of ballet lessons, where I finally learned how to keep track of all my limbs at once.
I suspect we all have sensory differences, that no one is entirely neurotypical, but we live in our own heads and have nothing to compare our experience with. My high school friends and I used to debate things like, “Do you think the colour blue looks exactly the same to me as it does to you?” We considered ourselves quite the philosophers. We could get a lot of mileage out of a question like that because we thought there was no way to answer it, short of literally seeing blue through someone else’s eyes. The existence of sensory processing differences, however, suggests to me that maybe we do each see our own blue – and I find the idea exciting.
And that brings us – of course! – to the question of dragons’ brains. If dragons acquire human senses when they take human form, what differences will they experience? That question is like a massive taproot; a thousand more questions sprout from it. I’m going to have to stop right there; this subject sees a lot of play in the book, and I don’t want to spoil it. But I encourage you to notice yourself noticing — and not noticing. It’s an interesting exercise.