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: