My daughter was an active child from conception. Even in the womb, my daughter kicked, wiggled, and danced energetically whenever she heard my voice or music, and especially when I was trying to rest.
When she was born, it was obvious that this active little girl was a little different from other babies. She was extremely active and assertive right from the beginning. She challenged us new parents to some of the most difficult months of our lives as we fought severe exhaustion to care for our baby who never seemed to stop crying and had extreme difficulty falling asleep.
People told us it was normal. People told us it would get better. People said “that’s just what babies do,” but the other babies we knew weren’t the same. After many trips to the doctor and pleas for help, we discovered she had a lip and tongue tie, and a lactose allergy. While correcting these issues helped a bit and our very bright and gregarious daughter grew into a toddler, we noticed she was still a bit different from the typical child her age.
Her first word was at four months of age. I’ll never forget her chanting “ball, ball, ball!” in the store when we passed the bin. And I’ll never, ever forget when she said “Mama!” at five months, warming my heart to a degree I didn’t know existed. She didn’t slow down and had mastered sentences by eighteen months. She became very affectionate and overly friendly, even with strangers. At her weekly class at the library, she was wiggly, pushy with other kids, and over-reactive to noise, running to me with her hands over her ears and screaming. The doctor said her ears were fine.
We began noticing the same reactions came with lights, textures, and even some foods. Then followed the head-banging, and her need for chewing, hitting, and stomping. She was destructive with her belongings. She was unable to run without tripping, so she galloped everywhere, and walked on her toes much of the time. She continued to have sleep challenges and we often spent hours and hours getting her to sleep at night, exhausting every piece of advice from friends and relatives, our doctor, and parenting books. Anxiety and trembling fear was obvious in our baby girl when any transition was about to occur. It was really starting to worry us.
At 32 months, my husband consulted a Psychiatrist who recommended having our daughter evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder. A team came to our home to meet our little girl and put her to the test. After a couple of hours, they determined that while she is meeting her milestones with flying colors, she does indeed exhibit red flags of S.P.D. While we were relieved to know we weren’t crazy, we were now unsure of what to do because a true diagnosis of SPD is more complicated and she is still too young to know for sure. Because she was meeting her milestones, she wasn’t eligible for therapy. Evidently, many very intelligent kids have SPD and fall into this doughnut hole. We were advised to see an Occupational Therapist for therapy.
The closest O.T. we could find was an hour away and our insurance was not going to pay for it. Concerned for our daughter’s quality of life, we took matters into our own hands. I began studying Sensory Processing Disorder and found some parents in my community who have children with the diagnosis. After comparing notes, I purchased some sensory therapy tools, invested in essential oils, and learned techniques to help my daughter calm her nerves.
Our daughter will be three years old in a couple of weeks. We had considered preschool, but we were concerned that special accommodations would be difficult as no local teachers were familiar with sensory challenges. After scouring Care.com, I very luckily found a Montessori-trained and college-educated woman who is local to us, and was willing to come to our home and work with our little one.
Montessori seems to be a great match for a sensory-challenged child, as it teaches self-regulation and incorporates basic life skills as “lessons.” Our daughter already seems to be thriving on the confidence building she is receiving. In a world that is so over-stimulating and scary, a little one needs to know that they have the tools to deal with everyday challenges.
What else are we doing to cope? We try to stick to a routine, and let our daughter know what’s coming next, as she often fears transition. We give her choices about little things and give her a sense of control by teaching her to do things herself. We carry earmuffs to cover her ears and sunglasses to protect her sensitive eyes. We buy clothing that doesn’t irritate her skin, and feed her good, whole foods that don’t upset her delicate digestive system. At night, we use high quality, food-grade essential oils both on her skin and in a diffuser. We make sure her room is dark and she has a white noise machine to block out outside noises, like a nearby train that scares her (even from miles away). We place a large feather pillow over her body when she sleeps, giving her the weight her body needs to feel safe and secure. These things haven’t eliminated the challenges, but they have helped lessen them.
When we leave the house, we often use a harness, because she seeks the thrill of running and doesn’t yet understand the danger of parking lots or large shopping centers. I never thought I’d be “one of those moms,” but it became a necessity to keep her safe.
We have purchased a few sensory therapy tools, and have found a few around the house. At nearly three, we still allow her to use teethers (we call them “chewies”) for those times when she needs to bite and chew (a common need for sensory kiddos). We have a hammock swing which she loves, a trampoline, and a sit-and-spin. We also purchased a body sock. These items give her the sensory input she craves to help regulate her system.
My husband, a Licensed Clinical Counselor, is specially trained in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), and frequently uses “tapping” to help our daughter settle down for bed. She has become resistant to EFT at times, because she knows it helps her calm down to sleep, and she just doesn’t want to stop the fun of the day. But when she does allow it, it works almost magically. I will be blogging about this in a future CrunchyMoms.com article, so stay tuned!
Our daughter is still quite challenging at times and some days I feel quite overwhelmed. But, honestly, I love her to pieces and wouldn’t want her to be any other way. While parenting hasn’t been what my husband and I expected, we adapted. It’s now much easier to see that our daughter will be able to thrive in life, given the right skills and tools. We still have a long way to go, but I’m glad we followed our gut and sought help while she’s still young and has a lot of neuroplasticity, (in other words, her brain is more easily moldable). Her dad and I will survive this, and she will thrive!
If you’re concerned about S.P.D. and sensory processing issues in a child you love, here are some resources I recommend:
Biel, L. & Peske, N. (2009). Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Penguin. New York, NY.
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation Web Site
Sensory Planet’s Parent Support Facebook Page
(Image courtesy of Pixabay)