Raising a Child With Sensory

In my previous blog, I mentioned my son’s need for sensory stimulation.  Today, I wanted to delve a little further into exactly what I mean by this.  At age 7, Keigan was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  In specific, he was diagnosed with Type I Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD).  Before we delve into the specifics of Type I SMD, let me first give you a picture of life prior to diagnosis.

As a baby and toddler, Keigan seemed to cry a lot/overreact to a lot of different situations but we always attributed that to the fact that he was raised by women.  He was roughly three and a half years old when he threw his first tantrum.  I raised my voice while sending him to his room for something small, like not picking up a toy.  Nothing could have ever prepared me for the reaction that I received.  My smiling, bubbly little guy suddenly turned into Regan from The Exorcist!  He screamed and kicked the wooden door so hard that it cracked down the middle!  As a new parent, I was stunned and wondered if all children reacted this way in the heat of a tantrum.

Aside from the one tantrum, my son was the epitome of helpful at home.  He was always polite and respectful and smiling – at everyone.  It wasn’t uncommon to see a stranger’s face light up in the store when Keigan flashed them his signature, happy-go-lucky grin for no reason.  At daycare, however, it was a very different situation.  Between the ages of 3 and 6, Keigan went through 5 daycare providers!  His offenses ran the gamut from a defiant, uncooperative demeanor to risky behavior to an inability to keep his hands to himself.

Some of this behavior carried over to kindergarten, first grade, and even into second grade.  That was the year that I agreed to have him tested.  Any parent of a child with SPD is all too familiar with the similarities to ADD or ADHD; he couldn’t sit still, was sometimes defiant, tapped a lot, chewed a lot, was overly emotional, hurt his peers when hugging them and the list goes on and on.  He was slowly becoming isolated from his peers who were intimidated by his overly exuberant and physically invasive behavior.  Initially, all they were testing him for was ADD but as the testing progressed, they noticed that there was a lot more going on than meets the eye.

The testing revealed that Keigan has difficulties processing auditory, vestibular (balance) and multisensory sensations.  In laymen’s terms, this means that Keigan hears fine but sometimes can’t immediately process the information heard, can be uncoordinated and accident-prone, and struggles when a situation requires him to process multiple types of sensory all at one – such as in the grocery store with the lights, people talking and different smells.  It was also revealed that many of Keigan’s outbursts at school were directly related to being constantly overwhelmed by sensory input.

What shocked me the most at that time, at to this day, is how differently the school responded to him after being diagnosed.  Prior to his diagnosis, when they thought he had ADD or ADHD, the treatment he received was harsh.  His second grade teacher even informed me that he needed to be medicated.  I quickly replied that I would not medicate my child in order to compensate for her own inadequacy.  What is the most appropriate or collaborative response? No, but it is what it is and I was equally frustrated with the punitive treatment that I felt my son was facing at school.  After the testing however, the staff’s reaction to my little package of sensory overload was much more patient and helpful.

He received OT a few times a week, was given a quiet room to “cool down” when he became overloaded and was even allowed to use a word processor for assignments rather than having to write them out.  Clear writing was, and remains, a challenge for Keigan.  The effort required for him to write legibly sometimes gets in the way of his being able to write logically.  As you can imagine, high school has been a blessing since the bulk of his papers are submitted in typed format.

At age 16, Keigan is a very different child.  He still doesn’t like grocery stores so I won’t push him to go as long as he helps carry bags in.  He tried learning French but just couldn’t process it with all the distractions at school so he uses the Rosetta Stone at home.  The challenges are all still there but he’s learned better coping strategies.  Rather than using a “time out” room at school, he’s learned to calm himself down with music in between periods.  He still has all the safe-guards of an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), but rarely, if ever, uses the resources any more.  I’ve never allowed him to dwell on his diagnosis.  I don’t allow him to see it as a disorder, but as something that is part of what makes him beautiful.  He feels deeper, sees more and has more energy than most of us, and, when channeled properly, these traits make him a force to be reckoned with.

It hasn’t always been an easy road but, as Scott Adams said, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s too hard.”  Anyone can have a “normal” child.  I didn’t.  I was blessed with an extraordinary child who is growing into a passionate, dynamic young man.

If any of this rings true for your family, please don’t hesitate to insist that the school test them for SPD.  Here are some helpful SPD links to help better understand the disorder:

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9 thoughts on “Raising a Child With Sensory

  1. bakerbritt says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Your post was very interesting and informative. I liked how you showed how ADD and ADHD are very similar in symptoms to SMD. I don’t think that I’ve ever really heard of someone having that disorder. I have been working with kids for quite awhile (babysitting and nannying), so this was educational to read about. I also found it so interesting the difference that ADD diagnosis and an SMD diagnosis made in the way he was treated! That’s amazing to me. Great post! Keep it up.

  2. cawiechert says:

    Hi Melissa,
    My 6 yr old son has also been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. He is the opposite of your son, who sounds like an avoid-er. My son is a seeker. We were lucky in that the preschool he went to was a county preschool where 1/2 the kids were ‘typical’ and 1/2 of the kids had speech/processing delays. The county would take in talkative typical kids to encourage the non-typical kids to communicate. At our first parent-teacher conference, we were given the answers to all our questions. My son was the first boy after two particularly quiet and calm girls. We chalked his behavior to being ‘a boy’. We have found great success with compression therapy and regular exercise. While he does not currently have a 504 or an IEP, we are not sure that will last as he will be entering 2nd grade and expectations about what is appropriate behavior is sure to be an issue is sure to be an issue. I really like the resource links you provided & I look forward to your future posts!

    • msmchugh1 says:

      Hi ChrisAnn,

      You were VERY fortunate to find a preschool that was so proactive! It makes a difference when the school cooperates. At first Keigan had a 504 behavior plan but we decided in third grade that he needed a more structured IEP. The expectations do change significantly after first grade but I’m sure your son will doo just fine. He’s lucky to have parents who are aware of the challenges he’s facing and are educating themselves in order to help him. Kudos to you, Miss Lady!


  3. shayferesh says:

    As someone who suffers from ADHD and a little bit of OCD I immediately saw the similarities of SPD and ADHD. I believe you posted on my blog about SPD and how it could be similar. I will be checking out the resources you have on here because I would love to know what makes the differences and how they can be noticed. I was tested for years to make sure i really had ADHD and like your son I was given a IEP but they called mine a 504 plan and I was allowed to go walk around and cool off if I needed it or to listen to music in between classes as well. I know that for me highschool was tough because I had to deal with the same handwriting problems. I write so fast because I am trying to keep up with the speed of my brain that most of the time teachers would ask me to type it up because they couldn’t read my hand writing. I used to get so frustrated because I would be trying to write slow but honestly I just couldn’t do it. I would lost my train of thought and get more frustrated. I would also like to thank you for supporting your son. It would seem that every parent would do that right? I have known a few kids who’s parents took it out on them or blamed themselves and didn’t get the child the help they needed so thank you for that!

    • msmchugh1 says:

      My son expressed the very same thing about writing. Now, do you find that you have no problem writing when it’s typed out or is it the same?

      To play Devil’s Advocate for the parents, it isn’t easy to admit that your child needs special services. I’ve had 10 years to accept it but when Keigan was 6, I was NOT thrilled about his diagnosis. Like it or not, there is still a stigma against children who require a 504 or an IEP and it was hard for me to willingly put him through that. In the end, however, I saw the improvements he made and how much happier he was and that’s what helped me reconcile with the special educational coding.

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