I’m in a martial arts classroom with a bunch of parents who are watching their young children practice for an upcoming tournament. It is quiet. The kids are standing in a line. They are listening to the teacher. They are disciplined.
My son is running around the room trying to climb on everything in sight. The teacher kindly says, “Hey buddy, you have to participate if you want to be in the class.” My son responds by running away from him in horror and collapsing on the floor in tears. My cheeks fill with a familiar heat as the stares of the other parents fall on me. I am torn between taking him out of the classroom and leaving forever or finishing what we started and giving him a chance. We’ve already tried this with gymnastics. That ended up with us being kicked out because my son wouldn’t sit and listen. It probably looked like I couldn’t keep my own child in line, when in actuality he was freaking out because he could not see me. I had told the instructors that I needed to be in there with him the first time. I told them he had some “issues” (because I didn’t know what else to call his behaviors at that time), but they still refused. And he lasted about 2 minutes before we both walked out of that building in tears, right past all of the other parents. Cheeks heated, spirits broken.
But this time I decide to stick it out and let him observe because I know my kid. I know he must be eased into new situations. Transitions have always been difficult for him. So I watch him spin around in circles on the floor, try to climb on the mats that are off-limits, stop to watch the kids spar for a few seconds, and then repeat it all for the remainder of the class.
That was yesterday.
Today my son went to occupational therapy. He’s only been three times, and his therapist is still working on assessing him. (She’s been letting him warm up to her and gain her trust before doing too much. I love her.) Even though she’s not done gathering data on my son, I decided to go ahead and ask her the question I’ve been waiting impatiently to ask for a few weeks now:
Does my son have sensory processing disorder?
Without hesitation she nods her head and says “Yes, definitely.”
Now, I knew this in my heart already. I’ve been doing my research on SPD since it popped up as a result when looking up “sensory-seeking behaviors” on Google. This was only a month or two ago, but it only took one article for it to become crystal clear that SPD is what my son has been dealing with all of this time. It had a name. It was a thing. I was not crazy. But the tears still welled up. I don’t want him to have to struggle. And I feel like I could’ve helped him so much more had I known this when he was younger. All of those times I felt he was giving me a hard time, he was HAVING a hard time.
The signs have been there for a long time, but I just didn’t know what to call it. He’s had a diagnosed speech delay for two years, but last year my husband and I started to realize that something else was going on, we just couldn’t put our finger on it. His team of people (his preschool teacher and his therapists) and myself didn’t believe it to be autism, but there were definitely some occupational therapy issues that were noticed as soon as he entered preschool. For awhile I just passed it off as him having a lot of energy, an extremely strong will, and being a ‘rough’ kid. But it was more than that. It was:
constantly spinning on the wooden floors…never ever tiring of it
draining the bathtub of water just so he could spin in it for a good ten minutes
literally throwing himself into walls and onto the floor with so much force, you’d think he broke something…and then doing it again, and again, and again
only eating a few very specific foods, usually crunchy or cold
stomping around or walking on his tippy-toes everywhere in the house
pushing things into other things, usually into the wall
getting hyper-emotional at the drop of a hat
constant screaming on the way home from work every.single.day
shoving huge handfuls of crunchy food into his mouth until his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk’s
licking walls and floors and, well, everything
putting anything in his mouth past teething age
rolling himself up in my yoga mat like a burrito and staying there for long periods of time
unzipping the covers of my big floor pillows and crawling inside to just sit for awhile
climbing on EVERYTHING
constantly breaking crayons and pencils
running into people full-force and not knowing his own strength
hitting, kicking and being very aggressive
“fighting” with his daddy when he comes home from work…it’s his FAVORITE thing to do. My husband will put his arms around him and my son has to figure out how to get out. He loves being restrained and using his muscles to get out.
lifting and throwing heavy things…we used to put sandbags in his plastic grocery cart and he’d run around the house pushing it. But we had to take them out because he was ramming it into the walls!
destroying things – ripping up every piece of paper and box he can find and breaking things
jumping on and off of everything..tables, chairs, couches, beds, rocks, ledges…he has no fear, that is for sure
banging his toys together constantly
always wanting to smell the spices in the kitchen…all of them
There have been so many times where I have opted out of events solely because I did not want to take my son. Because I knew it would end up in a total meltdown, and it just wasn’t worth the trouble. Listen, I used to dread just getting out of the car with my son because he would refuse to get out, then refuse to go in the house, or he’d want to run down the street….going out with him was kind of like a circus, to be quite honest. I avoided taking him anywhere. My friends used to joke that I had this imaginary second kid because I always talked about him but never brought him anywhere.
So what is Sensory Processing Disorder exactly? It basically affects the way a person processes sensory messages to the brain. The best analogy I have read is to think of it like your lip being numb when the dentist gives you novocaine. You play with it and mess with it because the feeling is missing. It’s kind of the same thing, depending on the type of sensory input that is lacking. The best explanation I’ve come across (there are TONS) is an article called Kids Who Feel Too Much by Betsy Stephens. The story she tells at the beginning resonates so deeply with me, and it left me in tears the first time I read it. She goes into what SPD is, how it is still seen as a controversial diagnosis with some of the medical community (it’s not even covered by insurance right now), how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. The second video shows a mom talking about what it’s like with her son, and I can totally relate to what she says in so many ways.
From the research I’ve done, the proprioceptive (coordinating movement in the body) and vestibular (balance) systems seem to be the areas where my son needs the most input. He constantly seeks these input opportunities out to compensate for what is lacking. Knowing this now for certain gives me a lot of hope that between the help he gets in his developmental preschool class (his team there is AMAZING), his therapists (who are AMAZING) and my husband and I at home, we can provide the kind of help my son needs to be successful in life. My little guys are my whole heart, and I will do whatever I can to help them both be happy and healthy, even if it costs me some gray hairs in the process.
To read more about SPD, you can visit:
Sensory Processing Resources: The Inspired Treehouse
Sensory Processing: Lemon Lime Adventures
And Pinterest is chock-full of resources and articles as well!