Why sensory processing disorder makes everything so hard and a phrase that will make things easier

I have a memory of my son when he was two years old that has stuck with me over the years. He was doing one of his favorite things - pushing a dump truck at top speed back and forth in our cul-de-sac. He had figured out a way to balance perfectly with his hands resting on the bed in a way that did not let the bed flip up while he ran behind it. (A feat that other children did not recognize until they tried to race their dump trucks, too.)

What he had not figured out was how to keep an eye out for the terrain in front of him. The front wheels caught on a crack in the pavement and my son went silently end over end. He stood up, grabbed his truck, and started pushing again. 


"Whoa!" said a neighbor child. "He's tough."


I didn't realize how tough he was until he came racing by me and I saw blood dripping down his legs and arms. When he had landed, the asphalt had taken a good deal of skin off his knees and elbows...and he didn't seem to notice.


So I corralled him to clean his wounds quickly but carefully before unleashing him back into the street to play.


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That is what it was like for me to parent a young child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I am constantly trying to figure out what his needs are because it doesn't seem like he knows them himself. He is undersensitive, or a "seeker," constantly seeking more information by touching things, mouthing them, moving his body, overstuffing his mouth, etc.

He is undersensitive so he has trouble not anticipating sneezing, bowel movements, or vomit. He doesn't feel pain until it is a broken bone. Nor does he feel hunger until he is h-angry.

 
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At home, it is easy to stick to our routines. For years, I anticipated food needs and prepared snacks that were ready to eat whether we were approaching snack time at home or at a playground.

However, when we travel, routines with food are not as easy to maintain. Combine that with the frazzle of travel logistics and I am often faced with h-angry children.


It was when Tigger was six years old and we were on a family vacation that we were able to turn a corner with regard to self-regulation and food.


My son came to me screaming that he was hungry. He was upset and stressed. Old enough to understand that I am separate from him, he was finally able to understand that I did not know that his body needed food. I said, "I did not know you were hungry."


"Well, you should have known," he replied.


"You're used to me anticipating your hunger and having things ready."


"Yeah."


"But I didn't this time. In the future, will you please come to me and say, 'Mama, I'm hungry. Let's make a healthy snack together.'"


"OK!" he smiled. Then together we fetched a plate from my sister's cabinet and prepared a healthy snack.

 
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From that day forward I felt like I had found a new nugget of gold to keep close at hand as a parent:
 
"Let's do it together."

It seems so simple to say but it isn't. 


The best time I've used this phrase is when something is challenging one of my children (which usually coincides when I'm also running out of patience): I have asked ten times for someone to put on his or her shoes, or pick up some toys, or clear the table, or get dressed, or do the copywork, or fill the water bottles, or ..., or..., or...


When one of my children is dragging their heels, the BEST thing I can do is to help. I take a deep breath, count to ten, tie on my cape, and say, "Let's do it together." 


As soon as I offer help, the task is monumentally easier and everyone wins. The job gets done, and I show my children that I am there to help them when they need help...especially when they don't even know to ask for help.

 
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Asking for help falls under Executive Function. A child will have to have Working Memory to recognize that they are struggling with something; he or she will have to have enough Mental Flexibility to imagine that someone else might be able to help, and then enough Self-Control to pause what they are doing, find someone how might help, and ask.

That seems like a tall order for a young child, made even taller by SPD. If their brains are not processing physical stimuli, then how can they properly assess the situation and their needs, let alone Working Memory, Mental Flexibility and Self-Control?
 
And as we all know, if someone's needs are not being met, then everything else falls apart. 

The tough thing for a child with SPD or Autism is that they might not know that their needs are not met! That means that when parenting a child with SPD and Autism, one has unique responsibilities. A child with SPD does not have normal signals from his or her body, nor does he or she learn through imitation. Teaching self-care (like cleaning a cut, nourishing tummies, taking a rest) requires special attention, deliberate instruction, and 

 
"Let's do it together."
 
 is a simple phrase that helps everyone slow down and work together to do something difficult. 

By working together on the hard stuff, I am able to point out what is hard and bring my son's attention to it, thus teaching him how to identify when he is injured, hungry, tired, or needs to otherwise take care of his physical needs. 


By working together, it makes those difficult situations less so...for everyone. 


And slowly but surely we (yes we) create and maintain a supportive, reliable relationship. 
Sensory Processing Disorder, BocoLearning.com, Boco Math, Homeschool Math
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