Dear Addie (or should I say "Shoeless Addie Jo Menzo"?),
You could live without shoes. Just sayin' - it's true.
Doesn't matter where we are, or how treacherous the surface, shoes just don't seem to be necessary for you. You've got some tough feet girl!
I'd be lying if I said I didn't often wonder "doesn't that hurt her feet?!", but what do I know?
Back in the day, you used to quickly drop to the ground to pull off your shoes and socks whenever the opportunity allowed (code for "I let go of your hand"). That grew into a battle of wills and some epic meltdowns when I would insist that you put them back on (depending on the situation).
Now that we've mastered the art of flip flops, you effortlessly fling them off (look out!) and it's far less dramatic getting them back on. Yay for us! - we pick and choose our battles :)
You see Addie, in addition to your autism, you have what's called a sensory processing disorder or SPD for short. This is a condition where your brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through your senses. Which takes us right back to your love for being "Shoeless Addie Jo". I'll get to this in a second.
You have a hyposensitivity (under-sensitivity) to just about all your senses, that is except auditory. Side note: Your auditory processing is so hypersensitive that if challenged you could probably hear a dog whistle! Ok, maybe not, but you get the point.
As for your hyposensitivity to your other senses, it takes "extremes" to get the input you're seeking. From flavors and textures of food, to your love of extreme temperatures, thrill-seeking type motion, or textured surfaces - you always look for the extreme to stir your non-auditory senses.
With that in mind, let's get back to your (lack of) shoes.
Shoes were created to protect our feet.
Simple enough, right?
But for you they seem to send your body into a plane of feeling unsettled. You need to feel the deep pressure of your foot on the ground to literally feel "grounded" within your body. So, why is this?!
There is a huge concentration of nerve endings in our feet. We generally wear shoes to shield these nerve endings, so ultimately when we do decide to ditch the shoes and walk around barefoot, our feet are hypersensitive to any little rock or hot surface. Ouch!
Over time, if allowed to be free of shoes, your feet will become less and less sensitive. You'll still "feel" the rocks and temperature, but it won't bother you as much. They’ll get calloused and also just get used to the feelings.
That said, there are some major benefits to being barefoot. It has proven to strengthen your feet and lower legs resulting in being more agile and balanced. It can also awaken your proprioceptive senses that helps you become more aware of your body and how it moves.
I can't tell you how many people have said how good you are at climbing and maneuvering around.
In a 2016 Washington Post article on parenting and discussing children being barefoot, the author quotes Dr. Kacie Flegal – A Specialist in Pediatrics:
“One of the simplest ways to motivate proprioceptive and vestibular development is to let our babies be barefoot as much as possible. Another benefit to keeping babies barefoot is the encouragement of the presence of mind and conscious awareness. As the little pads of babies’ feet feel, move, and balance on the surface that they are exploring, the information sent to the brain from tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular pathways quiet, or inhibit, other extraneous sensory input. This creates focus and awareness of walking and moving through space; babies get more tuned in to their surroundings.”
Losing the shoes is perhaps just an example of you knowing exactly what your own body needs. These dreaded shoes are acting as a barrier, for lack of a better term, to a place where deep pressure to nerve endings can provide so much sensory input and grounding that you so desperately need.
While you struggle getting enough sensory input to keep you calm and balanced from day to day, your brain is helping you out by saying "leave your shoes at the door Addie!"
I get all this, but your brain seems to not be familiar with "no shirt, no shoes, no service" I suppose.
Now while I can wrap my head around the shoes and the sensory input on your feet, your actual pain tolerance is crazy high and a little more complicated to eloquently explain. There's actually a lack of concrete medical evidence to know exactly what causes this phenomenon at all.
You walk across spiky seed balls from sweet gum trees (we have a ton here), pine cones, rocks, and hot pavement like it's no big deal.
You can and love to eat pizza straight from the oven, dripping with molten lava cheese and sauce.
You once even walked around (or hobbled rather) for 2 days with a dislocated hip. No joke! Never even cried or grimaced!
Your love of being barefoot also tends to leave you fair game for fire ants to get a free nibble. This unfortunately happens A LOT. Only showing signs of annoyance towards yours truly when I'm trying to fit your red, swollen, elephant sized foot into a tennis shoe for school! Argh!
Some studies have said high pain tolerance is genetic. Meaning you've inherited a gene from both daddy and I…our superhero gene no doubt ;). Others have leaned toward the psychology explanation of "mind over matter." There have even been theories pointing to elevated levels of estrogen in the body too.
Whatever the reason, it leaves bystanders in awe, and us a wee bit concerned (ok, we are usually on flat out - "high alert!" because of the dangerous situations we can find you in!). But at least we now have a better understanding of why (and let us not forget that superhero gene we gave you;) ... and it also explains the weird "barefoot style" running shoes daddy runs in... hmmm....
Keep being footloose and fancy free my love.
I love you –