“I just don’t know what to do,” I pleaded with the nurse on the phone. “Nothing I do works, and all my four-year-old son Dax does is scream at me, day in and day out. It’s so exhausting, I can’t go on like this.”
With that last sentence, hot tears came flash flooding into my eyes.
“He’s my first child, so I don’t know to what extent this behavior is normal for his age. All I know is that every day with him is harder than the last. It’s getting worse, not better, and at this rate, I don’t know if I will survive parenting him.” I was full-blown sobbing at this point.
“I totally understand,” the nurse responded gently. “While there may be an element of some normalcy for this kind of behavior at his age, why don’t we get him in to see the doctor just to make sure there isn’t anything else going on?”
We headed straight to see our pediatrician and, after spending a good hour with us, listening to my grievances and observing Dax’s behavior, he warmly offered up some thoughts.
“I don’t believe there is anything developmentally wrong with Dax, and he seems to be socially typical, making friends and expressing empathy. But I do agree with you that something external may be triggering this behavior. I think he needs to see an Occupational Therapist.”
I shrugged; the term “Occupational Therapist” was completely foreign to me, but at this point, I was willing to try a witch doctor. “Sure, let’s get him in.”
Dax’s first OT appointment was merely an assessment; he was asked to sit down at a desk and write all of his letters and numbers while I filled out a pretty extensive questionnaire. Then, he was brought into a gym where he was asked to do some gross motor activities. He thought all of it was a blast, which eased my anxiety a bit, and in less than an hour, we were paying our copay and heading home.
A week later, we went back to get the results. As Dax and I were walking down the hall to his therapist’s room, it came at me like a drive-by shooting.
“So, we found that Dax has Sensory Processing Disorder, with emphasis on oral sensory and body positioning issues…”
She kept talking, but I couldn’t hear her. I just started nodding dumbly, grunting a crass, “Oh, okay,” in response. My chest tightened, my palms began to sweat, and our surroundings began to blur. Was I going to pass out? I wasn’t sure. Her mouth kept moving and I tried my hardest to focus on it and hear the words she was saying.
“Have you heard of Sensory Processing Disorder? Well, I can give you some literature on your way out. In short, he has trouble with integrating a lot of stimuli, and in his case, it is mostly found in eating certain foods, consuming screens, and touching certain things…”
“He also is unable to do some gross motor activities that many kids his age can do because he is unaware of where his extremities are at any given moment.
“Up to this point, the parenting practices in his home, while completely fine and normal for typical children, can prove to be quite traumatic for kids with SPD, which explains his acting out. Anyway, here’s the room, let’s get started. Dax, you ready to play?”
“Yeah!” he ran into the room excited to get started.
For the rest of the appointment, I tried to keep my attention on Dax’s therapy, but I couldn’t shake that word from my brain.
Sensory Processing Disorder. Traumatic parenting practices. I have unknowingly been putting my baby through trauma. I have been hurting my baby.
Just then, all the red flags that should have alerted me to his disorder a long time ago came rushing to the forefront of my mind. The fact that he never put things in his mouth as a baby (which made me so grateful as a new mom – nothing was a choking hazard), how he would shiver and sometimes throw up when I fed him certain foods, when he would scream in public restrooms if the toilet flushed or the air dryer went off…
For several days after Dax’s diagnosis, I lived in a thick haze of guilt and mourning. I felt like the worst mom on the face of the planet, and I wasn’t sure how to navigate business as usual. I eliminated screen time (a trigger for him) and fed him foods I knew wouldn’t cause him stress. And, in an effort to atone for four years of apparently “traumatic” parenting practices, I more or less gave him whatever he wanted.
But soon, I was able to see Dax’s SPD diagnosis in a new light. With each passing day, with each therapy session, my perspective changed. Dax’s Sensory Processing Disorder has since ceased being a burden and has actually transformed into a blessing.