When my son Dax was first diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, I was a complete mess. I struggled with feeling guilty and ashamed of the ways that I neglected to parent him effectively, even though the reality of the situation was that I was doing the best I could (given my ignorance).
However, as time went on and as Dax’s therapy progressed, my perspective began to change. Before I knew it, I stopped viewing his SPD diagnosis as a burden and realized it was a huge blessing for so many reasons.
First, Dax’s SPD therapy is giving us the tools necessary to appropriately parent him. The first thing his therapist gave us was a body brush, and we were instructed to brush his body and compress his joints (which sounds a lot more painful than it is in actuality) three to four times a day. The reasoning behind this treatment is that it calms Dax’s senses and helps ground him by making him aware of where the parts of his body are. My husband Dan and I were a bit skeptical of this at first, but within a week of implementing that practice, we saw a dramatic shift in Dax’s overall demeanor. He was calmer, he was more agreeable, and transitions were easier for him to handle.
Relatedly, confirming (via therapy) that screen time is an aggravator to his disorder was a total game changer, too. Since I work from home, I tend to get most of my work done when Dax’s baby brother is napping and he’s watching a movie. However, now that we know how screens affect him, we are able to set strict time limits and boundaries with a clear purpose behind them (that isn’t just, “Turn off the dang TV; it’s been on all day!”). I was worried that the change would be hard for him, but when I explained that it makes him “sick,” he was completely happy to find other things to do apart from screens. Now, he spends a lot of time reading books, coloring, and building with LEGOs and train tracks.
Secondly, with Kindergarten on the horizon this fall, Dan and I feel fully equipped to partner with Dax’s teacher. I have to admit, when I first took Dax to the doctor with the hunch that something was wrong, I had him starting school this year heavily on my mind. I didn’t want Dax to struggle to make friends or (worse) fail to excel in education because of something that could have been helped. The SPD diagnosis, coupled with our treatment plan and diligence to adhere to it, gives everyone involved – Dax, Dan, me, his future teachers and friends – a head start on caring for him in the ways he needs and sets him up for success on all fronts.
Lastly, I’m so grateful for his SPD diagnosis because, though I thought I knew my son before, now I really know him. I understand him. I get him. I am no longer frustrated by his behavior but, instead, enlightened and compassionately empathetic.
The first time I realized this was when we went to his Kindergarten orientation at his new school. The program was held in his school’s “cafetorium,” a room washed in a bright flood of fluorescent lights. There was music blasting through the sound system and kids excitedly running all around. At the lunch tables were boxes of crayons and paper for coloring. Dax and I sat down at one of them to wait for everything to settle down and for the orientation to start. He picked up a crayon and began to color quietly. After a moment, he put his crayon down and looked up at me, his big, blue eyes wide and unsure.
“Mama, I don’t like the way the music sounds.”
As is consistent with most public elementary school auditoriums, the sound system in that room wasn’t exactly the best. The sound was a bit muffled and distorted, and we could barely make out the lyrics of the songs that were blasting. Plus, the tile floors and the hard walls made everything echo pretty badly. It didn’t bother me, but I totally got why he didn’t like it. Pre-diagnosis, I probably would have said something completely condescending like, “What? Why don’t you like this song? It’s the Jackson 5! It’s a classic! Come on, dance! You should love it!” But, instead, I said:
“I’m so sorry, Dax. I’m sure it will be over soon and the orientation will start. We just need to be patient for a little while longer. How about you focus on coloring your picture?”
He nodded, and grabbed another crayon, and resumed scribbling. But, after a few moments, he turned to look at me again.
“Mama, I really don’t want to be in this room anymore.”
The bright lights. The loud kids. The booming music. A perfect storm for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. But I was so thankful to understand where he was coming from and to continue comforting him instead of getting frustrated with his perceived unwarranted frustration.
“I know, I am so sorry, Dax. The orientation starts at 9AM, and that’s in five minutes, so we shouldn’t have to wait much longer. You’re doing such a great job being patient, and I know this is hard for you. I am so proud of you.”
He continued coloring, and before we knew it, the orientation had started and finished and we were well on our way.
A lot of people have asked me if Dax will eventually grow out of his SPD, or if therapy will somehow make it go away. I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that, regardless, we are so thankful to have a plan. We are so blessed by our therapists. And we are so in love with our little boy, probably now more than ever, because we finally, really know him.
And what could be better than that?