Our son is, in the language of child development, a sensory-seeker.
At least for tactile things — he wants to shove to feel the bodies next to him. His impulse to throw things (including punches) overwhelms him. He begs for us to “squish” him, and flings himself at our bodies. It’s made classes he’s been in tough, all that pushing, the time-outs and tantrums. It makes every night long, when the craving for rough contact seems to be stronger. He stuffs blankets in his mouth, tries to fold himself up in the bed or the couch, and sometimes seems to be trying to kick out of his own skin, as if he’s molting.
It’s hard to know, with toddlers, what is normal nuttiness and what is unusual even for toddlers, but we definitely thought that having a preschooler wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Other kids B’s age didn’t seem to be quite so turbulent every single day, or their parents quite so ragged, and B seemed to be lagging behind on a lot of behavioral stuff. We started with behavioral counseling, which has helped us as parents a great deal, but that segued into occupational therapy.
Now he’s been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. We’re still learning what that means, but it’s nice to have an explanation and a treatment plan for what we long suspected were more than the usual toddler problems. Some issues seem to be directly related to the sensory-processing dysfunction (like, er, using the potty). Other things (like going to bed) just seem held back by it–he was distracted, or overwhelmed, by other things. And of course some of them are normal toddler things.
For him sounds seem to be amplified, often distracting or annoying him, while tactile sensations don’t quite process, so he digs in deeper to feel. I’ve wondered so many times what is going on his head, and asked in that classic exasperated parental way, “what were you thinking?” Now I know his body is trying to give his brain the information it needs, or maybe any information at all. Suddenly everything made sense, so to speak.
So now we go to the sensitively-named AUTISM SHOP for weighted blankets and big-kid chew toys that give him the tactile sensations he craves. He sees two therapists every week. We’ve learned he needs to do “heavy work,” and my wife has improvised games for him involving shoving things around the house to calm him in advance of outings. We do yoga at bedtime. He loves it, especially “the lion,” which gives him license to roar.
Life has gotten a little bit easier. We’re even getting sleep, and sleep makes everything else seem less impossible.
We’re lucky to live in an era and a country where there is so much awareness of these developmental issues, and of course we’re lucky to have the resources to give him what he needs. I suppose many kids just outgrow the issues, but by then they have reputations that will follow them, expectations that become self-fulfilling–that they will be trouble in class, or get into fights. I hope he can learn how to cope before Kindergarten. I feel bad for him. Being a kid is so hard already. Obviously other kids have bigger challenges than he does, and I want to hug them all. Kids this age aren’t really guilty of anything. They have needs and impulses they are trying to sort out. They can be exasperating but none of them are “bad kids.”
If I can end this entry with a plea, it is for adults to stop clucking their tongue or pursing their lips when they see a kid like ours acting out, presumably judging us for not spanking him or whatever. You really don’t know what’s going on with him, and you don’t know how much we’ve worried and stressed about his behavior, how much we’ve done and how far he’s come. Offer a sympathetic smile or mind your own business. We’re working on it.
We’re doing it for him, mind you, not for you.