What started it all



Five Hens guest post

October 2009

When dealing with a child’s behavior that is less than ideal in the Kindergarten world, there are a few ways to respond. I choked down the denial, and went head first into appointments, web searches, talking with parents, meetings with the Principal. I don’t regret a moment of it. Your best friends are those who guide you without lecturing you. I have one of those and I will always be thankful for her and what she gave me, a name and phone number!

Our son was the child who was unable to sit still at circle time.  He was the one who got so focused on a project he would melt down when torn away from it. His social skills were way behind his peers at times and other times he was adored by his classmates. The opinions of the educators did not match our opinions of him. He was always fixated on details of mechanical workings, recited information as if he was reading a script, yet I said his name more times each day then I had hairs on my head!  I say he thinks like an Engineer, with all the quirks and personality! He destroyed school property and built the Lincoln Memorial out of blocks from memory all in the same day. I cried out of confusion.

Smart? Yes, very smart. Bored? A little. His own world is where we found him most of the time. We worried even before the school meetings and the teacher’s phone calls. Our second son was easier; he was sweet and cuddly and the one I enjoyed taking to the store. So, was it our parenting? I went to the Love and Logic conference with friends. We did the suggestions and still use “uh-oh”. It was not enough!

One late night when I was at my wits end, I found “Pocket Parenting” on a web search; we turned a corner with that. It is a parenting guide for kids with ADHD and Autism. Based on what I read there, I could not commit to self diagnosing my child with either of those.  In fact, I found more similarities in my son with Gifted and Talented traits. So for now, we called them “quirks”! Finally, he’d been professionally ruled out for ADHD and Aspersers Syndrome.  The doctors said, “he is a smart kid”.  Is that an official diagnosis?

It was a gift I got from a friend that made our world seem right and open the skies for him living to his potential. The gift was the name and number of a Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT). He conducted an hour long evaluation of our son. We met the following week to discuss the results, and this is when I met a person who ‘gets’ these kids. The diagnosis was Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Our son was showing symptoms of a neurological system that was out of sync. He was seeking out ways to meet his stimulation needs for his vestibular system; your balance sense or where you are in space. He could do a perfect cartwheel, but would not pass the roadside sobriety test. When he was stressed, he needed a lot of physical stimulation, tight hugs, loud sounds, spinning. He was numb to normal sensation, and needed the same input to be more intense; the pat on the shoulder needed to be a squeeze on the shoulder. At the same time small details were bright and important to him which caused severe distractions.

We committed to a therapy schedule of once a week. Each session incorporated a cocktail of stimulation. The sessions were child led and OT guided.  A typical session would include some spinning on a hanging board, chewing sour gum, listening to music, and reading flashcards all while wearing a tight shirt.  Other days he was rolled in a mat or hung in a sling. Our son loved the sessions and left drunk from stimulation. This was a child who never got dizzy, now my child gets dizzy! The sessions also included some quieter stimulation and were consistent each time, bringing his stimulation threshold lower and lower. This is where I saw the changes appear slowly and progressively and I cheered inside when he could complete a task that was once too difficult.

We have installed therapy swings in our house so he has access to the motions when he needs them. We do the infinity walk before reading books. We’ve scheduled meals to prevent sugar dips. The payoff has been worth all of it. Our son is thriving in 1st grade thanks to a combination of parent knowledge, therapy, scheduling and an awesome teacher who has mastered compassion. And, our 2nd son is also benefiting from making it all a family routine. Thank you KW for our greatest gift!

Now, I’m helping to give the gift that was given to me, just on a bigger scale. The SPD Foundation is a great resource for parents and has an international campaign to bring awareness to SPD and its therapies. A wonderful film, “Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story” is being shown all over the country and abroad. Autistic-Like is a film that parents can relate to on a basic level of love of a child. The dad, Erik, searches for the right therapies for his son, and in the process, educates the audience about the terminology and theories of therapy, while not being overwhelming. I’m excited to expose parents, educators and other professionals to what SPD is. I’ve gotten to know more people today than I’ve known in the last 8 months because I am willing to talk about our experience. I give you this gift, I hope you embrace it and it gives you, and those around you, years of happiness as it has for us!