I have this kid. I call her the Not-So-Little One. She is terrific - smart, funny, sensitive, caring, talented. She is terrific, that is, until she gets overwhelmed. In those moments when she is bombarded by the everyday stimuli that all of us allow to roll off our backs, the Not-So-Little One loses it.
I'm not talking about temper tantrums. I am not talking about behavior problems that can be resolved by time outs. I am talking about responses that are off the charts, out-of-this-world, inappropriately out of proportion to the situation. And they can happen quickly, with no warning. She can go from a lovable, affectionate, cooperative child to one who is screaming, kicking, and berating herself upon a moment's notice. Have you ever heard your elementary school aged child say she hates herself and that she wishes she were never born? It sucks.
My instincts told me when she was an infant that something was amiss. She would get hungry, but rather than eat she would cry for three hours, escalating the whole time, pushing me and her food source away. As a toddler we watched her hang onto the side of her high chair, screaming and begging to be fed - we could hardly get her in the chair quickly enough. Within seconds of putting food in her mouth, she was fine.
We had her blood sugar tested. Both of her grandmothers were diabetic. No blood sugar problem. We had sonograms taken of her abdomen. All normal.
Teachers began to wonder aloud if she was having petit mal seizures because she would "zone out" while performing a task at school. Tests revealed nothing abnormal.
There were other behaviors, too. Behaviors that just didn't seem to fit. Incongruence. Doctors told me I was overreacting. They told me it was a parenting problem. They blamed me. I blamed me, too.
After 11 years, we finally got a physician to refer us to an occupational therapist that specializes in children. We took the Not-So-Little One for assessment. The therapist did not tell me I was overreacting. She did not tell me it was a parenting problem. She listened. She validated both of us.
We are waiting for the official diagnosis, but it appears that my amazing kid has a sensory processing problem. In simple terms, her brain has trouble sorting out all of the sensations that she experiences. It's too much, overwhelming. She short-circuits, if you will.
I've been reading up. And my friends and colleagues have been tremendous help to me. They are a plethora of information and support. I am just so relieved to be heard! There is definitely healing in the telling of your story, let me tell you.
And... I am worried. And scared. And sad. And guilty. And angry.
I worry that I will not be helpful to my child as we attend to her therapy. I am scared that it will get worse, or that she will resent me. I am sad that she is not perfect (admit it, all you parents out there - we all want our children to be as close to perfect as possible). I feel guilty for all the times that I shouted at her or punished her for rotten behavior.
More than anything, though, I am angry. I am angry that I couldn't get anyone to listen to me. I'm angry that we wasted 11 years, spinning our wheels, when we could have been tackling the problem.
I am feeling overwhelmed as I face the future with her. I suppose you could say that I am experiencing a little sensory overload myself. Maybe I will talk to her about it and ask her what it feels like to her when this happens. Maybe I will just sit in the floor and cry.