This is my last part of this series, I'm pretty sure I've covered all the bases. So, I'm not taking any new submissions, unless I've already asked you and you've promised me something and I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for it. So... unless you've done that.... *cough*
Today we have Grace, who blogs at That'sRightISaidIt.Dot.Mom. Hi Grace!!
We're two years post diagnosis, and I still don't understand sensory processing disorder well enough to explain it to you in any scientifically insightful way. Basically, my son's brain processes sensory information differently than that of a typical child. Information taken in through the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell feels, sounds, and looks different to him. He sometimes has difficulty understanding sensations in his body (hunger, thirst, the need to use the bathroom, etc.). Some kids with SPD also have difficulty with spatial issues and understanding where their body is in relation to other objects in the environment.
I do, however, understand how sensory processing disorder causes challenges for my son. So, let's talk about sensory challenges, shall we??
I fully acknowledge that many non-spectrum kids have sensory issues. Lots of people – children and adults – have sensory sensitivities. For example, my eyes are extremely sensitive to sunlight. Consequently I wear my sunglasses even when it's kind of cloudy because it's better than spending the rest of the day feeling like my brains are trying to gouge their way out of my skull. And if your car alarm blares for more than three minutes, it's all I can do not to impale myself (or you) on a letter opener. So if your otherwise neurotypical child displays some difficulty with certain sensory stimuli, I get it. But if your child is not disabled by said difficulty, then please do not belittle me or my son by saying "all kids do that" when I tell you about his sensory processing disorder.
Oh, forgive me for being so defensive. I didn't realize your daughter doesn't like fire drills at school. She covers her ears, and even cried one time in Kindergarten? Yeah, well, let me tell you about my son. He's terrified of ANY type of high pitched noise – to the point where he develops physical symptoms and cannot function.
Like this one time, I was sitting in traffic trying to get home after a concert when I got a very distressed phone call from my mother, who was at my place watching my son. The battery was dying in one of my smoke detectors and making that annoying, incessant *beep*. My mom couldn't figure out where it was coming from or how to make it stop, and my son was hysterical and begging to go to her house. By the time I made it home, my son and my mother were sitting outside in her car. His entire body was shaking so hard his teeth were literally chattering. It was July, people. I had to rip the battery out of the damn smoke detector and hold my son on my lap for 45 minutes before he stopped shaking.
Not long after that, I had to replace my carbon monoxide detector. I went to the hardware store by myself, on my lunch break, because my son would have completely lost his shit in the middle of the store if he were with me and saw what I was buying. As it was, he freaked out that evening when he saw it sitting, still securely wrapped in the package, on the kitchen counter. He cried and shook and begged me to throw it in a dumpster. He didn't calm down until I took it outside and put it in my car.
My son has also been known to run screaming – again, literally – from the kitchen because I put bread in the toaster. I might accidentally burn the toast and set off the smoke alarm.
Let's be clear here. My son is not terrified because of some perceived danger. Honestly, the house could completely burn down, and as long as it happened quietly, he wouldn't be half as upset. My son is terrified of THE NOISE. He is so terrified of it, he is crippled with anxiety over the mere POSSIBILITY that it might happen. A brand new CO detector in its package sends him into a complete panic. He screams when I make toast. Sorry, but NOT all kids do that.
Oh, what's that?? You have to remind your child to brush his teeth?? Ok, how many times, may I ask?? Because I have to remind my son about 97 times every night. Then, when all that reminding fails, I have to cajole, threaten, and bribe. Then, if I haven't completely thrown in the towel (which happens sometimes. . .give me a break, I’m only human), he will brush his teeth, with a barely visible, miniscule amount of toothpaste, for about 20 seconds.
He tolerates the bristles rubbing against his teeth ok, and after a few trials and failures I found a kids toothpaste that he claims to like, yet he still doesn't cooperate. It took dumbass me far too long to figure out that he hates the sensation of the toothpaste foaming up in his mouth. If too much toothpaste foams up in his mouth, he will actually choke and gag and accuse me of trying to kill him. There is no way you will ever convince me that all kids do that.
Oh, you have to remind your Little Suzy Neurotypical to wash her hands after she uses the bathroom, too? Really. Does Little Suzy require occupational therapy to learn to tolerate the squishy feeling of the soap bubbling up between her fingers? Because my son does. Does Little Suzy also despise the sensations associated with finger painting, Play-Doh, and making mud pies?? Because, wow, my son can't tolerate any of that stuff. So while your kid may simply forget to wash her hands, MY kid avoids it like Blue Ivy avoids the paparazzi because it is actually uncomfortable and unnerving for him, to the point that he requires therapy.
I tried to compromise with my son on this handwashing issue by Purell-ing the hell out of him instead, with less than stellar results. I would squirt the Purell in one hand, he would barely dab it with three fingers from the other hand, then wipe BOTH hands on his jeans. Hygiene FAIL.
My son also accuses me of trying to kill him by making him wash his hands. I'm guessing not all kids do that, either.
All kids put things in their mouths, though, right?? Ummm, maybe when they're babies, but not when they're 8. In this way, my son seeks constant sensory input. He. Must. Chew. It's not an annoying little habit, it's a need, which I don't claim to understand. I have gum written into his IEP at school because chewing helps him to stay calm and focus on his work. If he doesn't have gum, he will put whatever he can get his hands on in his mouth. Paper clips, rubber bands, thumb tacks, it doesn't matter. I don't own a single pencil that still has its eraser on the end. He has, on at least one occasion, swallowed a plastic button. If he doesn't have anything to put in his mouth, he will chew his fingernails, which are nothing more than gnawed-off stumps, or his shirt. I can't tell you how many shirts he's ruined. But all kids come home from school with their collars and sleeves in chewed-up tatters at least once in a while, right?
Believe me, I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.
Let me be clear about something else. This is not about some kind of crazy competition over whose kid has it worse. I don't play that game. I have never actually said any of the above things to another living person. If I share personal stuff like this with you and you dismiss me with "all kids do that," I will simply stop talking, because you clearly don't get it, and if that's how you really feel, one conversation with me probably isn't going to change anything. But maybe if you would just listen, and simply acknowledge the things I'm telling you, I would feel like less of a misfit in the Mom World. And if I feel like a misfit, imagine how my son feels.
One last thing. Before you attempt to reassure another mother with "all kids do that," consider this: When my son was younger, I was so inexperienced and lacking in confidence that I actually listened to those people. As a result, my son got diagnosed much, much later than most kids. So, your offhand effort at being helpful to a concerned first-time mother may, in fact, be anything but. Just something to think about.