As October--SPD Awareness Month--is just about over, I thought I would write one more post about Sensory Processing Disorder. Lately, I have been looking at SPD in a more positive light, unlike in times past where I saw it more as a problem or a cross to bear. Though it has added a level of difficulty and challenge to parenting that I often feel unprepared for, I have realized that parenting a child with SPD has taught me many great lessons. Lessons which have made it easier to parent my other children and which have actually helped me enjoy life more. Here are a few of the major ones, in no particular order.
We all know how frenetic life's pace can get, how full of activities, noise and commitments. I learned early on, though, that Danny cannot handle cramming a hundred and one activities in one day. I had to schedule my days so that we were only getting one or two errands done otherwise, he would have a really difficult time, which of course, made it very difficult, and thus not worth it, for me. He doesn't like to rush around from activity to activity, no matter how fun they might be. Instead, we need to plan for lots of down time.
And you know what? That has been an enormous blessing to my family, because I have realized that really, none of us in the Pancake house does very well when we are scheduled to the max. Also, we have had so many amazingly fun adventures just in the down time when we played together with nowhere else to be.
~~Think outside the box
Parenting a child with SPD is challenging in that your kid probably doesn't fit the mold of "regular kids." Before we knew what was going on with Danny, I scoured countless parenting books trying to figure out why my son would have meltdowns and what I could do about them. None of the books helped, because they were coming from the assumption that kids with meltdowns had discipline problems, whereas Danny's meltdowns were sensory related. Much of the advice given in the books actually exacerbated Danny's problems.
Once we understood SPD a bit more, we were able to help him, but even then we couldn't always find answers in SPD books, because each kid's SPD manifests itself in such unique ways. Instead, we had to get creative, wacky even. We would have regular wrestling matches with Danny and let him jump on our bed in order to get the deep pressure that he craved. We filled a sandbox with beans and kept it in our family room so Danny could get the tactile input he needed. I regularly let the kids roll around in funny foam (foam soap for kids) naked. And so often, a thought will come to me and we follow it, despite its seeming craziness, and it works. Both Bil and I are now much better at thinking outside the box in dealing with parenting issues that we are struggling with.
~~Power of prayer
I know not everyone reading this blog is religious, but I really feel like I need to say something here about prayer, because honestly, without it, I don't know how we would have survived the last few years. I won't detail every time prayer has helped me, because that would take way too much time. Suffice it to say, that there have been many, many times when, at my wits' end, I said a prayer. After the prayer, I would have an idea of how to handle the situation, and the idea was always something just a little bit out there, or something I wouldn't normally think to do in that situation. Whenever I follow that thought, though, it always works.
~~Trust my instincts
Trusting my instincts has never been my strong suit. I habitually second guess myself, especially in instances where my instincts oppose the popular opinion. I often defer to others and their opinion, thinking they must be right and I then must be wrong. Over the years, though, I have realized that my instincts are right. I know my kids. I know when something is wrong, and if I have a strong feeling as to how to help them, I should follow that feeling.
Time and again, this has been brought home to me, even by professionals. I will never forget an appointment with a developmental pediatrician in which she told me that not only was I right in not following some advice given to me by a caring friend, but that had I followed the advice, I probably would have done some damage--Danny most definitely would not have improved his speech, which was what my friend was trying to do, in fact, it probably would have backfired.
~~Honor our limits
Again, I am not so good with saying no to people. I am getting better, because being Danny's parent has helped me see that I need to respect his limits, as well as my own. This goes along with trusting my instincts, as well. Too often, I have said yes to an engagement despite feeling uneasy, and I have always regretted it. Others may think my rules are too strict or weird, but they work for us. For example, I will no longer let an activity or friends keep me from getting my kids to bed on time, and for us, on time is a very early 7:00 during the school year. I know most parents think I am crazy, but my kids fare so much better with lots of sleep (and frankly, so do I). We skip parties sometimes because I know it isn't worth it to get Danny all overstimulated.
~~Go with the flow
One Halloween we took Danny trick or treating at the mall. He was just over 2 years old and we thought he would really enjoy it. Well, Danny ran around the mall for a couple of minutes and then wanted to leave. For a brief moment, I wanted to try and convince him to stay. After all, we had come to the mall with friends and I thought it would be fun. Then, it occurred to me that the point was for Danny to have fun, not me. If being in an overcrowded, noisy mall was hard for him to deal with, then what was the point in staying? So, we left and had a great evening at home with a well-regulated, happy child.
This lesson has not been an easy one for me, but I have learned that it is so important to be flexible. Bil regularly outlines what he calls our "escape route" when we go to parties, which is our plan for how long we will stay and what we will do to make it easier for Danny. And if all else fails, we have a little signal which says that it is time to leave. Because parties are not much fun when you have an overstimulated little boy. Though I have had to miss some fun parties, it has been worth it when we honor Danny's needs. And now that he is older, we have a lot easier time in big groups.
I can't really say that I am grateful that Danny has SPD. It is hard for me to see him struggle. Still, I am so grateful Danny is my son. I love him so much and he has taught me a great deal, so many lessons that I need to learn and relearn in order to be a better parent, a better wife, and a better person. And I am so grateful that I have gotten to the point where I can see that SPD is not a curse so much as it is a challenge. A difficult one, but one that can teach us so many great lessons, if we let it.