Parenting

Sensory overload Saturday


Welcome to a day in the life of me and my SPD kid. Some days are manageable, and some days are so off-the-chart bonkers that it really tests my faith in my ability to be a good parent. Today was definitely one of those days. I have to keep reminding myself that she (as of yet) has no real control over or true awareness of what’s going on neurologically in her body. It’s just firing on all pistons and she’s along for the ride, whether she wants to be or not.

A clue that something was amiss today presented itself at brunch. My daughter is generally high energy, but today, it was impossible for her to sit still and focus on anything. I look around at other tables, where kids her age and younger are peacefully eating their food and feel a pang of envy. Mine is squirming, getting up, crawling around in the booth and under the table, standing next to the table, running to the bathroom and even rotating her body clockwise at the hips – in short, doing everything BUT sitting down, eating her food. She was demonstrating an obvious need for vestibular movement. Why? Who knows. She wasn’t quite being disruptive enough for us to make the decision to go home, but brunch was less than enjoyable.

Later, my husband and I decided to take a 6 mile walk around the Candler Park/Druid Hills area near our house. Our daughter accompanies us in the jog stroller and we will usually stop at a nearby park for her to play and get her energy out. I suspect we didn’t give her enough time to go on the swings and really engage in that vestibular movement she was seeking. (As an infant, she needed a lot of movement – rocking, walking, etc -if she was fussy or needed to go to asleep.) I thought the movement of the jogging stroller would help, but instead, she argued, whined  and fidgeted for most of the (very long) walk.

The rest of the day went much the same way. She did finally exhaust herself enough to go to bed a bit earlier than usual, a huge relief to me. I understand my daughter has sensory processing issues. Unfortunately, I do not have a deep well of patience, especially when I’m already feeling overwhelmed by daily life. I have my own sensory issues, and there’s too much noise or agitated energy coming at me, I just want to run for the hills. If I can’t escape and reset my levels, I’m liable to snap at whoever happens to be nearby. My husband saw that I was having a really bad day, and surprised me with flowers later.

Recently, I did begin adding back in some “sensory diet” exercises with her at night, because she’s been having difficulty falling asleep. She walks very high on her toes, so we started doing stretches for her calves/Achilles tendon, as well as gentle but firm compressions on her limbs, feet and hands. She used to fight me when I did them before (at the recommendation of the physical therapist we were working with at the time) but now she actually seems to enjoy them. And just as important, she settles down for bed without a 2 hour nightly battle.

My husband suggested we sign her up for a gymnastics/tumbling class on Saturdays, so that she has something structured to do with her energy. I do wonder if it will help or only overload her system further. I think she’ll like the activity, because she is a rough and tumble little kid and enjoys bounce houses, foam-sword fighting with her daddy, running and kicking the soccer ball around. I just worry that she’ll be so wound up after she gets home that the rest of the day will be more than I can reasonably handle. 

I think sometimes my husband and I are in a bit of denial that this is something we’ll have to continue to work through with our daughter. We keep holding on to hope that “it gets better at 3” or “it gets better at 4”, only to realize that the issues have little to do with “normal” child development (in those areas, she is generally doing fine and on schedule) and more with how she is wired.

One of the things I’m struggling with is figuring out what to do about her thumb-sucking and attachment to “blankie.” Remember Linus from the Peanuts gang? That’s my daughter. “Blankie” must go everywhere with her. I’ve seen people give my daughter odd looks because she will sit there with her blanket and thumb jammed in her mouth. She’s tall for her age, and could be mistaken for a 5 year old, so no doubt there’s some silent judgment accompanying the looks. However, it is often the only way she can self-regulate her sensory input. It calms and soothes her when she’s tired or agitated. Her preschool teachers have been good about allowing her to keep “blankie” with her when she wants it, but I don’t know how things are going to be when she enters Pre-K in the fall. I will basically have to keep her from bringing it with her to school and I know it’s going to be painful.

All I can do is take this journey day by day. It’s so frustrating at times, and the work required is draining beyond normal parenting work. I know that people who do not know about SPD see her in public and think, “That kid is hyper and her parents can’t control her” but they don’t know what it’s like – or how hard it is to reorient a child with sensory issues. Many of the strategies suggested in regular parenting books and websites simply don’t work. It’s not a lack of effort, trust me. It’s like standing on one side of a wall, trying to speak a language to a person on the other side who can’t understand what you’re saying. And you’re both peering over that wall, wishing you could finally connect in a meaningful way.

(Photo credit: LisaW123 on Flickr)

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6 thoughts on “Sensory overload Saturday

  1. My boys don’t often sit still in restaurants either. I’m not sure if its because most of the time, a restaurant visit comes at the end of a 3 hour car ride or when they are already tired or if its something else. I don’t think they have SPD, but if you have good info on that, I would like to see it. I’ve also decided that I don’t care how long Augie sucks his thumb. It calms him. He’ll stop when he’s ready & I don’t want to cause other issues by forcing it. He apparently hasn’t sucked his thumb at preschool, though, and hasn’t wanted to bring his lovey there.

    I can definitely appreciate how exhausting active children are, though, since both of my boys are active (others comment on it – usually in a positive tone).

    • Thanks Gwen! I think your mom instincts would clue you in if there was something else going on with your boys other than typical restlessness. In my case, I knew something was up with her because of her toe-walking (fairly classic sign of SPD) and other intense needs/aversions to sensory input. We go out to eat quite a lot and there are days when she is relatively calm, and days like today where no amount of discussion or distraction can get her to settle down. And it can be hard to figure out what might have triggered it too. (We try to control what environmental factors may contribute to it, but it’s hard to be that vigilant all the time – and she might just wake up on the “wrong side of the sensory bed.” She’s human, after all!)

      I was not overly worried about the thumb-sucking until recently, because it’s become more persistent and pronounced. Again, I have no clear reason as to why. Our nanny does not allow her to have “Blankie” with her except at naptime, but we’re a bit more lenient. Then again, our nanny is probably better than we are at keeping her engaged and busy for longer periods of time. 🙂

  2. awww Sorry Dana for what sounded like a rough Sat.

    Just out of curiosity, do you catalog when the SPD symptoms seemed worse than others?

    I ask because perhaps during the time of growing spurts, the physical change may increase her sensitivity to stimulants and if you kept a journal of sorts it may help reveal a pattern.

    For a long time I had migraines and it wasn’t until I kept a running journal that my doctor was able to see a pattern. In turn being able to manage the symptoms better.

    Just a thought.

    • I haven’t kept a running journal, but it might be a good idea. You’re right that physical development can affect behavior. I do have a referral to take her back to the PT for another evaluation. However, I started a new job a couple of months ago and finding time in my schedule to take her weekly for PT/OT is challenging (although on the plus side, my supervisor’s daughter has SPD…)

  3. My big kid has had a special baby “Jelly” since she was 5 months old. She took it to school with her every day until about 2nd grade. However, at school, she kept it in her backpack with one little tentacle barely sticking out. If she was stressed she would just go & touch the tentacle to calm her down. After all that she has been going through, Jelly has been going to school with her again. She certainly doesn’t pull him out in 4th grade, but it helps her to know he is there. Little kid still drinks a bottle at 5 ((gasp!)) I assume that one day she will stop (hopefully!) She no longer takes in public places & certainly doesn’t want her friends & teachers to know. But, it is HER special baby. It is what soothes her. Just like a big ol’ glass of cider soothes mommy!
    I have had the “looks” from other folks & even some very rude comments, mostly, of course, about the bottle. Am I glad she still wants it? No. But, I think it will be history all in good time. You do what you think is best for your kids. And no matter what it is, you will find those that disapprove. I say to hell with them. It is your kid & it is the most important thing you will ever do. Your little one is only 4. She loves her blankie. I see no problem with her having something that provides her comfort. Let the other folks look all they want.
    I certainly can’t imagine what you go through every day. But, I have seen you in action & you are an incredible mother. You know what your girl needs & no matter what you guys go through & no matter how hard it might be to understand her on some days, she knows that you love her.

    • Thank you so much for your kind, encouraging words. It helps to hear from people who know me and my family. (It reassures me that perhaps I’m not crazy! LOL) I think Blankie in some form will accompany her to Pre-K. She actually has several versions of Blankie (because I remembered the cautionary tale of my brother losing his blanket as a child and how distraught he was) including a little lamb lovie named “Albert” that she has had since she was 7 months old. I have a feeling “Albert” will accompany her to school. 🙂

      My concern is usually less about what other people think (they should live my life for one day and see if they have something to say after that!) but there are potential dental issues with kids who thumb-suck (or in your daughter’s case, use a bottle for comfort) for years. That said, I was a finger-sucker and didn’t entirely give up the habit until I was 7 or 8 (only at night and when I was stressed) and my teeth are perfect. Go figure.

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