How to Raise a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder?
Raising a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is like a roller coaster train that you have been strapped to and you can't really get off. Just as your car is maybe about to stop and you are hoping to take a break, there is another crisis and you are going downhill again, hopefully taking a deep breath.
For the Sensory Processing Disorder kid nothing is ever right. You will probably start with a fussy baby who likes to be held all the time or never wants to be touched. Your hard to comfort baby will turn into a strange toddler who might never want to touch sand, will love to pinch your arms, holds on his pacifier for dear life, freaks out at the grocery store for no obvious reason. Or what if you enter the doctor's office and your kid suddenly lies down on the floor and starts chewing on a toy in the waiting room. Eventually you come to the conclusion that a child should not be so difficult to raise.
I know you when I see you in the park, for you are one of these moms, who does looks like will benefit a shower, whose eyes nervously glance around the playground for future trouble in case you will have to step in and help your child's play.
You might be looking at other moms who chatter happily nearby, and even though you are still one of them, you feel vaguely distant. Your pediatrician and friends might tell you that this is a normal behavior which will pass with time. It won't, Sensory Processing Disorder is a brain dysfunction which causes inefficient neurological processing of the external and internal senses. It will not go away, it cannot be cured, but if treated it will make your child be able to function smoothly in daily life.
There is a lot of chaos in the SPD child, this chaos will inevitably transfer to you and to other siblings and family members. One minute I may see my kids peacefully playing together, I sneak out into the living room holding onto my freshly made coffee cup, as soon as I sit down I hear my daughter screaming as my sensory seeking son throws her beloved tea-set cups around screaming happily at the loud noise they are make as they bounce off the tile floor.
The next minute he starts jumping on the living room couches, I know there is no point in telling him there is no jumping on the couches, he simply does not process the movement like we do, so I need to re-direct him to the mini trampoline in the toy room. By the time we are done jumping, my coffee is already cold, not to worry, in three hours will be 6 o'clock - my wine hour.
One of the first and best things we did was to have Pediatric Occupational Therapist evaluate our child. We found a Pediatric OT that specializes with sensory issues. The sooner your kid starts Occupational Therapy, the better for him, you and the whole family, as it will take at least 3 months of therapy to see any results.
The frequency of the therapy depends on how much your kid needs, some of them are OK with once a week, but more intense cases may need up to 3 times a week. Don't get discouraged if you child does not want to go into therapy, she/he will get used to it with time and it will get better.
A good therapist will sit down with you for 5-10 min. after each session and explain you what they did and why. After one and a half years of occupational therapy my son is not cured of his sensory processing disorder, he is, however, able to function in daily life much smoother, at times even he is normal.
He is still an intense child with unusually high activity level who loves to chew on stuff and feels somewhat uncomfortable in crowded, loud places. But, at 4 1/2 he can sit still and put a 100 piece puzzle together, sings songs without freaking out at the tunes, will initiate an age appropriate play with appropriate choices without dumping all the toys out of the bin.
Another thing you can do is to educate yourself about Sensory Processing Disorder by reading books like "The Out-of-Sync Child" by C.S. Kranowitz. This is probably the best book out there that describes the subject in easily understandable language for parents and caregivers. I and my husband also learned to spot when our son is having a regular tantrum versus when he feels sensory challenged in certain situations or if something is too overwhelming for him. For instance we found that he loves to play chase, hide and seek and other high activity level games, however at times it might get too much for him and he has hard times stopping, so we re-direct him into a different activity. Once you know what your child cannot handle, try not to expose him/her to that too much. Take one step at a time. If certain situations are over- stimulating, like a crowded birthday party or a grocery store , then don't spend more than 30 min. there. If your child has a craving for certain sensation you need to provide the appropriate input. For instance my son has high activity level, so we have provided him with a trampoline or we play chase together several times a day. As your child grows and his brain matures, he/she will learn to function in once challenging situations. Occupational therapy will help tremendously with this as well.
Finding time for yourself is of crucial importance not only for the parents of Sensory Processing children but for any parents out there. Every day I feel like I am about to miss the last train, and another one is not coming, I have added rituals in my life. I wake up 20 min. earlier every morning and slowly sip on freshly made coffee in a beautiful cup. I go outside for a walk 2 times a week by myself, breath deeply and feel very thankful. The corner of my bedroom is my sanctuary, I have a night table, basket of books, candle and a nice chair. This is my kids-free zone, I spend some time there whenever I can and read stuff that has nothing to do with kids, family or the house but my own individual interests. I live in the present situation, I try to live in the NOW - the present moment, and this defines my relationship to life, in other words it is only now that I get to chase my kids to put there shoes on, it is only now that they will look at me and tell me :"Look, Mommy, I did it!"
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