When my youngest was born, he was a preemie, and had a lot of challenges early on. What we wouldn’t know for another two years, though, is that he would suffer with sensory processing issues his whole life.
What that meant when he was small, as compared to now, has not changed all that dramatically.
Let me start by explaining SPD. Sensory Processing Disorder is a challenge in processing stimuli from outside and inside the body, such as hearing, visual, taste, smells, touch, vestibular, and proprioceptive. A person can have a variety of reactions to any stimulus, being either hypo- or hyper-sensitive.
While many people know of the “five senses,” many don’t know of the other two mentioned. Vestibular system function relays information on balance and head location in relation to gravity. Proprioceptive system function is the reliable location sensing of your body and its location in relation to everything else around you.
When he was small, my kiddo suffered with hearing aversion (things were always too loud); taste aversion (certain textures of food were off putting); but needed touch, vestibular, and proprioceptive input regularly and at a higher level than neuro-typical individuals.
As he aged, we noticed a few patterns that stuck around. Mostly though, his needs changed with his growth, and as he reached puberty, he outgrew quite a few of the symptoms we had learned to expect. While his motor-planning skills have improved over time, he also still has deficits that can cause restrictions in autonomy (bike riding is currently still his nemesis).
Enter Online Schooling.
Enter Mom and Child together 24/7.
Enter room for improvement.
Enter new and improved sensory needs.
My child just turned 15. He is currently schooling from home, due to lack of vaccination for under 16, and underlying health issues. No judging what works for your family-so don’t judge what works for mine, please.
While he has been home for over a year, we have learned that our boundaries are way more blurred than ever. Reminders of socially appropriate behavior are near constant. Just because they can’t see you or hear you, does not mean you can behave that way.
Please sit correctly in the chair, stay on task. You only have to be in class for 20 minutes.
How have you never learned to take notes? What math skills will I be teaching you today? What do you mean you wrote several poems and entered them into a contest? I thought you hated English?
Please get dressed before venturing out of the bedroom, because while the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, you are preparing to follow a schedule and you wouldn’t do that if you had to attend school in person, so please don’t do it now.
All these reminders may seem like little things. Nagging even. But some sensory issues can evolve out of these behaviors. When he sits incorrectly in the chair, he has to receive input somewhere else-which usually ends up with him eating the pads of his fingers. He bites them until they bleed. Not the nails-the pads. The parts of the fingers one must use to TOUCH the touchscreen on the ipad.
When he hyper-focuses on one assignment, he loses track of time and ends up missing other classes. We have alarms set on the computer for the beginning and end of every class, so he has a warning before he has to change settings. He also has a built in break between classes, so that he can get up and bounce around, stretch, or go pee.
Learning skills like taking notes, math, and English take a LOT of focus. So, before we set to those, we have to really get in something good. Like a chore with heavy lifting or moving items from one room to another in order to activate those muscles.
My child still makes “Angel Wings” every. Single. Day. It’s a way to flex the muscles on the shoulder blades, and gives him thorough input on his back.
He still toe-walks. Walking on the toes provides input to the vestibular and proprioceptive system, reminding his body where it is in space and which way it is facing.
He bites his fingers, peeling the skin off of them. Which sounds painful, but really just provides more sensory input because then the skin is thinner, allowing more sensitivity.
He still likes big bear hugs, pillow smooshes, and swings. He likes foods with extreme tastes: sour and spicy. He likes jumping, swinging his arms, and sports that use a lot of body systems at once.
So, while we started with one set of issues, his age and growth-and more than anything else, situation-have led to a new set of issues.
I am not claiming to be an expert. I am just a parent. We argue, we fight it out, and there are meltdowns. They can be epic. And tiring for everyone involved. But we have a way to deal with those too. It isn’t perfect, but it sort of works for us.
So, mommas and dads, grands and aunties and uncles: if you have a kiddo in your life that is diagnosed with a sensory processing issue, be prepared for a lifetime of learning. You will learn how to help your kiddo. You will learn what senses are impacted, and how they work. You will learn how they change over time, and how that change effects their behaviors. You will learn how to love your kiddo in a way that is good for them.