Last summer, my family went to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to celebrate my second born. My son turned 9 years old and at his request, we celebrated at the best seaside amusement park in the world. The day was filled with so much joy and memories and of course…reminiscing.
Birthdays tend to make us reflect. In our family, we tell our children their birth story and all the kids get a good laugh as we retell the moments we hold dear. But for this child, his early childhood was a bumpy, hard ride.
Back in 2012 when he was just 4 years old, my child was biting, screaming, had tantrums, was hyposensitive, a sensory seeker, had difficulty potty training for #2, didn’t follow directions, had behavior issues and a speech delay, could not sit still, craved stimulation, licked things, fidgeted all the time, wanted to be constrained, ate dirt and yelled.
And yet I wondered, “Is this normal?”
I was used to the looks in the grocery store. I was used to the advice from well-meaning parents and friends. But I knew this special boy was given to our special family and I owed it to him to stay up until midnight and beyond researching everything I could about something I had never heard of before.
One day, my late-night reading paid off and I stumbled upon Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is an inability to process information received through our senses for generating appropriate responses. There are three different types of this disorder, but my boy fit like a perfect puzzle piece into the Sensory Modular Disorder (SMD) category. A child with SMD experiences difficulty processing sensory information into appropriate behaviors and responses which match the intensity of the sensory information
I won’t go through our journey of evaluations, therapists, and treatments. I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone or to even suggest what worked for us will work for your family. But there are a few things I had to learn in those early years of parenting a child who is atypical.
- Let go of perfectionism. My people pleasing sometimes manifests itself through perfectionism. I guess that’s a nice way of saying that my pride wants others to perceive that I have it all together. And what better way to be judged than the behavior of your kids. Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” Because my boy wasn’t on the autism spectrum, I had no excuse for his behavior. To others, I had neglected to discipline my son correctly. I had to let other’s perceptions go and do something new. Something radical like occupational therapy and a sensory diet. Once I started letting go of how we were “supposed” to be, I was free.
- Parent through hardship. It was not easy dealing with a biter, crasher, and yeller. But my curious nature started to dig into the “why” behind the behavior. I was thrilled to find so many amazing resources at my disposal to help my child process his intense craving for sensory experiences. Another Bible verse in Proverbs says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” That means, we’ve got a royal responsibility to search out the answer to the hardship we’re facing with our children. There is a solution, a cure, a procedure, a program or a diagnosis available to any parent with the tenacity to press through the difficulty.
This parenting testimony is a reflection of God’s faithfulness towards our little family. Our 9 year old boy is quite different now. He knows how to regulate his body and doesn’t have tantrums at all. He’s still as energetic as ever, but that kid is a selfless helper with such a big heart for others.
Five years ago, I was hopeful during those hardest moments with our son. One day, I sat down to write what his normal day with Sensory Processing Disorder looked like. I want to share it with you. I pray that as you read it, you start to see through your child’s eyes what their world is like. Even though you are the one parenting through hardship, they are the ones who have it hard.
E-Man’s Normal Day with Sensory Processing Disorder
(Written April 14, 2012)
It’s morning. Sometimes I wake up with a big smile. But today, I scream really loud. Mommy hears me and I know she’s coming down the hall. “Here’s your pillow, Ethan. Everything is alright. Today is going to be a great day.” She lays down next to me and gives me a firm hug. Mommy rubs my arms and legs. I feel better. I think I can start the day.
I brush my teeth with my big brother beside me. He’s taking too long at the sink. I can’t see myself. I want to stand on his stool. “My turn,” I say. Daddy knows I’m getting impatient. “Let’s all brush our teeth together. Do you see how, Ethan? The mirror is long enough for all of us to see at the same time.” Why, yes it is. I feel better. I think I can brush my teeth with my brother and Daddy.
Mommy calls out, “Breakfast time!” I grab my little sister’s hand and we walk down the stairs together. I feel good being a big brother. I know I’m a good helper. Mommy is smiling. She is so happy that I didn’t run down the stairs this time. I’m being extra careful with my sister. She’s little and I love her.
Now that I’m dressed and ready for school, Mommy says it’s time to go. I run to the garage. I want to push the button. I forget if it’s my turn so I push my brother to make sure he doesn’t get there first. “Ethan, hands down, remember?” Mommy kneels down and holds both of my hands. She looks into my eyes and is saying a lot of words. I think it’s not my turn today. But I really want to push the button. I hear “taking turns” and “waiting” so I know I won’t get a turn today. I feel my face is getting hot as I start to cry. Mommy rubs my back and squeezes my arms a few times. “Let’s go now,” she says as she holds my hand as we walk to the car. Inside, my favorite toy is waiting for me. “My car!” I yell. I feel better. I think I can ride to school now.
At school, the kids are lining up, waiting to go inside our classroom. I am excited today. I see my teachers! I have my jacket and backpack on. I hold Mommy’s hand, but I start to pull away as I run toward my friends. “Ethan, we must walk together. Hold mommy’s hand and let’s meet your teachers for school!” Everyone is watching to see what I will do. I get bashful, so I smile and take Mommy’s hand. I think I can walk slowly with Mommy to meet my friends.
School time is fun. My day is full of games and lots of grown ups are there to help me learn new things. Sometimes we walk to the neighborhood opera house for sing-a-long. Sometimes, me and a few friends go to another class to play games and say words. Sometimes, another grown up takes the whole class to the gym and we tumble, climb, balance, and jump. But I love circle time the best! I get to sing and dance and wiggle. Moving is so much fun! Sometimes, I don’t want to stop.
After school, Mommy picks me up. I have a snack and now it’s time for a nap. “My pill-why. I want my pill-why.” Mommy understands. She gets my pillow and I feel better. I think I can rest now.
After my nap, Mommy says it’s time to visit Alina. “Yes! I want Alina!” I yell and run to find my shoes. She’s my speech therapist. I love to play games with her and play with toys we don’t have at home. It’s so much fun. I know the way to her office. Up the hill and down the street. My brother and sister and I sing in the car on the way. I’m so excited. We might even get pizza afterwards. That’s my favorite thing to eat.
It’s been a long day. It’s time to wind down. After dinner, I enjoy a bubble bath with my toys. The water is just right. Splash! I get water on the floor. Mommy isn’t happy but I know she loves me. She cleans it up and says it’s time to get out. She wraps me in a towel and sits me on her lap. We sing the “I Love You” song as she dries me off. We hug forever and get ready for bed.
After Daddy reads a story, the lights go out and Mommy plays the soft music. I feel safe and warm in my bed with my toy car in my hand. “Night, night.” Kisses and hugs for Mommy and Daddy as I slowly drift to sleep.
A Parent’s Prayer:
Dear God, I thank you for my children. I thank you for the gift of parenting. I pray that your grace guides me to love my little ones as you have loved me. May I be ever mindful of their feelings and their needs. May I be sensitive to discern their heart even in an intense moment. May I be equipped with your wisdom to teach, lead, and guide them to your love. May our family be a reflection of your awesome power and answered prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.