I took my younger son to music class today and as I was sitting with JA, watching him bang the egg shakers together as he intently watched the music teacher singing and dancing, I couldn’t help but notice another child in the classroom.
This little boy was very active, running around the room and focused only on what caught his eye. Several times during the class, the boy’s grandmother had to apologize for her grandson’s behavior, as he bumped into other children, rolled around on the ground, refused to give the instruments back to the teacher and took instruments from other children’s hands, not maliciously but intensely.
Something about this boy reminded me of my older son, WJ. At that moment my eyes welled up with tears, as I vividly recalled the severe anxiety I would experience every time I took my older son, WJ, to music class as a toddler. I felt for this boy’s grandmother. I wanted to tell her that it was okay. I wanted to tell her that her grandson was okay. But it was really my old self that I wanted to reassure with “it’s okay. Your son is okay.” My son is okay.
WJ would engage in the same quirky behavior every time I signed him up for another toddler class. It didn’t matter if it was music, soccer, tumbling or swimming.
WJ would often get bursts of energy and take off running, sometimes for the door. Now I understand that in those moments he was experiencing sensory overload.
WJ would lie down on the floor, rolling around, even while other children were dancing around him imitating the teacher’s movements. WJ was simply seeking sensory input from his environment because that’s what his vestibular system (i.e., his sense of movement) needed at that moment, just so he could feel normal.
WJ would grab other children’s hands, lean on them, or bump into them rather than participate in the activity. (These are still daily struggles for WJ.) This was simply WJ’s way of obtaining the sensory input he needed to help him regulate his proprioceptive system (i.e., his sense of position in the world).
WJ would refuse to participate in most group activities but he would always refuse to participate in activities that required coordination of movement. WJ could not get his body to perform these planned movements since he was experiencing difficulty with “motor planning” (i.e., getting his body to coordinate movement).
WJ would end up throwing at least one uncontrollable tantrum during these activities, and I often could not get him to calm down. I didn’t understand what was wrong. I didn’t have the right tools. I didn’t know about sensory processing disorder.
Today, as I watching this child’s grandmother doing the best she could to help her grandson regulate his emotions so he could come back and enjoy the class, I felt sad for my old self.
When WJ was a toddler, I didn’t fully understand the struggles my son was having because of his sensory processing disorder. Instead, I just laughed off his behavior and proclaimed him a quirky and energetic toddler. If only I’d known then what I know now.
I would have had WJ evaluated much earlier. I would have discussed these “quirky” behaviors with his pediatrician. We would have started seeing a pediatric occupational therapist when WJ was a toddler rather than waiting until he was 4.5 years old. I would have been more sympathetic to WJ’s peculiar behavior rather than trying to discipline him for it. I would have implemented a sensory diet so WJ would have immediate tools to help him regulate his own behavior.
If you have a child with sensory processing disorder or you suspect that your child might have sensory processing disorder, I understand your anxiety and your fear. Your child is okay. Your child just receives and processes sensory information differently than other children. But there is hope and there is help.
For more information on sensory processing disorder or SPD, I recommend the following books:
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