Have you ever touched something and immediately felt repulsed by it and every time you even think of that, it brings up that creepy-crawly feeling again? For me, it is anything sticky. The thought of syrup on anything other than food is repulsive.
What about eating something that has a gross texture in your mouth and you just don't care what it tastes like, you will not eat it? For me, that food is bananas. They are mushy and bumpy at the same time. Even typing that just now made me almost gag.
Have you ever put on clothing that did not fit right no matter what you did to adjust it so then the whole day that itchy tag or strange hem line was driving you nuts? Me too and I hate it!
Now imagine that you experience these struggles with many different textures, tastes, and even sounds, all day every day. That is how it can be when a child struggles with a neurological disorder known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). According to the STAR Institute, SPD can be characterized by a mixing up of sensory input resulting in uncharacteristic or inappropriate reactions. It is estimated that one in twenty people suffer from some form of SPD. It is often heard of in relation to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or those on the gifted scale but can impact anyone.
What does all of this have to do with my life? A few years ago, I would have told you that it did not. I had never heard of SPD. If anyone had pointed out that my over-the-top reaction to touching something sticky was abnormal, I would have just laughed at them and said that each person reacts to things differently. Now, SPD is something we struggle with in our household daily with my daughter.
My daughter struggled with colic so intensely as a baby. I was hopeful that once she outgrew that, things would go a lot smoother and that I would start to get that "perfect motherhood experience" social media tries to convince you is possible.
Newsflash: Life is not perfect! It is messy and being a mom is not easy!
Looking back on my daughter's infancy, I am wondering if certain things were hints of her developing SPD. I suspected at one point that my daughter had issues with her hearing. Certain noises she did not seem to respond to while others she would startle from severely. The doctor referred us to get a hearing test done (which is not easy for a baby to complete). To the best of their abilities, the doctors determined that she did not suffer from any hearing loss. This has since been confirmed as she has gotten older.
As my daughter entered her toddler years, the real struggles began. She started to express her disgust at wearing certain clothes. For example, skirts and dresses were a no go. One of the things that I looked forward to most as a mom was dressing up my little girl in all the frilly dresses I could find. That idea went out the window quickly!
Whenever the seasons would change, my daughter did not like to change what she was wearing. I remember one summer that she desperately wanted to wear her winter coat, claiming that she was cold. She hated shorts so much that we had to convince her that they were pants, just shorter for the longest time.
The issues with clothes have changed over the years. Sometimes she hates dresses, others she loves them and that is all she will wear. Certain days she hates "wiggly" pants (sweatpants) and other times she can't get enough of her "cozy" clothes. Most recently, we have been struggling with underwear. She went through a growth spurt, which means that the clothing sizes must change. Unfortunately, children with SPD find change to be especially difficult. I have gone through multiple styles and sizes of panties trying to find something that does not "bother her butt." What does that even mean? And don't even get me started on the struggles we have with socks and shoes!
It was not the struggles with clothes or baths (that is a whole story by itself) or food (she is the pickiest eater...and that's saying a lot because I'm super picky myself) that finally got me to realize that there was something wrong and push for a diagnosis. It was the responses to noise. As I said, her hearing is fine. And yet, it clearly was not fine.
Before my daughter could clearly communicate things, she would throw major fits if she was upset about something (as most children do). It started with things like the vacuum or the hair dryer. She would start screaming and cover her ears. At first, I thought she feared the noise and that as she got used to them, she would get over it. Except she did not. As she grew up, the reactions only got more severe. If we mentioned that we needed to vacuum, she would start to cry and beg us not to. At the same time, she would insist that the television needed to be extra loud because she couldn't hear it well.
The final straw for me was when we were out to eat one day, and she had a major panic attack in the bathroom because of how loud the hand dryer was (it was loud as it echoed around the room). However, I hope you never have to hold your child as they experience a full-blown panic attack on the floor in a public restroom. I wasn't even mad when she peed her pants. I was devastated that my child was suffering. After that, she was terrified to go into public bathrooms.
I scheduled an appointment with her pediatrician and explained what was happening. He asked questions like whether she liked to be rubbed to calm down (yes) and if certain clothing seemed to bug her (100%). He asked about her eating habits (poor) and how she reacted to having her hair brushed (like the world was ending). Then he referred us to an occupational therapist for formal testing to see if she was suffering from SPD. I did my own research as well while we waited for the diagnosis. I learned that it is found a lot in autism, but my doctor informed me that my daughter has the non-autistic version of SPD. She does, however, test on the gifted scale.
I won't get into the OT and counseling that she's been through in this post. I just wanted to share about SPD because recently we have been going through a flare up. I know part of it is because as she grows, her body must adjust once more to the way things feel. Another part of it is adjusting to change. Anytime something new or uncertain comes up, she must adjust.
This year she started Kindergarten...in 2020! She has had a mixture of online and in-person school, which is stressful and fosters uncertainty.
One positive thing that has come out of 2020 is the mask mandate. What I mean by that is this: My daughter has extreme shyness because of her anxiety and fear of change. Wearing a mask seems to help her feel protected from that. She made friends at school ON THE FIRST DAY!! In Pre-K, she did not even speak for the first 2 weeks and then it was only to the teacher. The masks are one piece of clothing that she does not seem to struggle with wearing, if I spritz on some essential oil spray, she is happy.
If you or your children struggle with SPD, I would LOVE to hear what tricks you have used to help overcome some of the issues. How do you introduce new foods without dinner turning into another World War? How do you buy new clothes and handle the meltdowns when it doesn't fit the way they expect?
Here's a tip from me: Buy ear protectors like people wear to weed eat! My daughter puts on her headphones when she knows the vacuum is coming out and she has no issues. She has even done some of the vacuuming herself!