E was about 18 months when we started noticing some things that seemed abnormal. For example, he would completely and utterly melt down when getting his nails cut. It wasn’t just tears, it was screaming and panicking to the point where he would almost throw up. An adventure in nail cutting would often end with both my husband and I having to hold him to get it done, and at least two of us sweating and crying. Soon, this behavior then spread to haircuts. He had the same kind of meltdowns.
Clothes became a battle. He refused to wear jeans, he would strip at every chance, and did not like certain types of socks. He would cry when you put shoes on if the sock wasn’t lined up just perfectly. If the neckline was not just so, he would cry again.
Then we started noticing the crashing. Dude would run full speed into you, or would jump off of the couch into a heap on the floor. We also found him bouncing off of walls, literally.
Food became another battle. Certain foods and textures would cause him to gag and throw up.
He hated anything on his hands; he would cry if they got dirty or had sand on them.
E also would melt down if he had too much visual and auditory stimuli. He hated crowds and busy places.
I finally said enough was enough when he was around two and a half.
This wasn’t just him being a two year old, this was over and beyond. I took it upon myself to follow up with the local early intervention group who had overseen his language difficulties when he was around 18 months. By the time we were able to get a visit, he was almost three, which is the cut-off for those services. They were very kind and said that they would still see him, but as far as services, he had basically aged out and they wouldn’t be able to set anything up in the short time he had left. So I talked to his pediatrician who listened and immediately agreed that this did not sound completely normal. The doctor made a referral to the children’s therapy center in town for him to see an Occupational Therapist.
At first the OT was a little unsure. Most kids with sensory disorders have other signs, such as poor gross motor skills or developmental delays. E’s speech had completely caught up, so he no longer had any delays and was actually considered advanced in a lot of areas. She felt that maybe it was actually anxiety based and that we may be better off seeing a child psychiatrist. Then she saw a meltdown in person on our second visit. My son freaked out about the sensation of being on the swing. He remembered how it almost made him puke on a previous visit and would not do it again. She said that kind of processing was not normal. She had us do several assessments, and it came back that he definitely was having some sensory processing issues.
So he was diagnosed as having Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Basically, his nervous system was not processing his sensory perceptions correctly. When he would cry that his haircut hurt, it’s because it literally did hurt him. Sometimes the crashes into the wall and into other people actually felt good. What sounds like a noisy room to us can sound like a rock concert to him.
I was so relieved that I cried. My mama gut was right that this wasn’t typical toddler behavior. We began a regimen of different exercises that his OT put together for us, and we were actually able to graduate from that program in 5 months. It didn’t cure him of the SPD, but it gave us and him the tools needed to navigate this.
We now have a whole collection of items in our home that are tools for helping E manage his SPD. Our playroom has a mini trampoline to help him with his need for feeling impact. We have a weighted blanket that allows him to get the pressure that he sometimes greatly needs. There are also baskets of sensory balls to help with his tactile needs, and chewy-type items when he needs an oral release. We also had a brushing regimen that we had to do for months to help desensitize him from touches and perceiving it as pain, and will use that brush at times to reset him.
Learning that my son had SPD and how to handle that made all the difference when it came to how he was able to interact with the world. Now nail cutting is no big deal, and haircuts happen without tears. He still doesn’t like jeans, but I can live with that.
Since October is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness month, I thought this was a great opportunity to talk about SPD. If you would like to know more about SPD, or if you have concerns/questions about your child, here are some great resources to check out about this condition:
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder by Car Stock Kranowitz, M.A.
Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) by Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR
Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping your Child with Sensory Processing Issues by Lindsey Biel, M.A. OTR/L
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