Birthday parties. Movies. Recess. Gym class. Lunch. These are the highlights of many kids’ days, but when your child has sensory processing disorder, that may not always be the case. For my son, Jake, each sense is super-powered. Tastes are too strong, lights are too bright, sounds are too loud, smells are too strong and a light touch feels like a sneak attack on his over responsive sensory system.
While it affects every aspect of his life, it changes a parent’s life, too. Some other moms may sit and talk while the kids are off playing, but I am always aware of what my son is doing. This makes me appear like a “helicopter mom.” However, during sensory overload, he has trouble regulating his emotions, so I’m watching so I can help. He doesn’t always know his triggers, so I watch. Too much water in his eyes while playing at the lake could lead to a meltdown, so I am his sidekick to evaluate his superpowers and teach him to self-regulate.
While I normally sit by myself, one day a new neighbor sat close by me at the beach. We made some small talk, and she suggested my son join the swim team. I explained that swimming was tough because of Jake’s challenges with motor planning, body awareness and sensory over-responsiveness.
A challenge for a parent of a child with sensory processing disorder can be the lack of understanding from others. A lot of people do not think it is real.
But she did.
So most people half-listen, or roll their eyes, or remark that with more discipline or “just one weekend” at their house, my son would be “cured.”
But she didn’t.
She asked a variety of questions about sensory processing. When did we first notice signs of it? Will he grow out of it? How does it affect him? Finally, she asked, “What do you do about it?”
I immediately listed the things we do to help our son. “He’s been in private occupational therapy for three years, gets OT in school, he is in vision therapy, we had his occupational therapist come to school to explain his challenges to his teachers…”
She interrupted me. “No. Not for him. That’s a lot to handle as a parent. What do you do for you?”
Luckily I was wearing sunglasses, because my eyes immediately filled up with tears. While I could rattle off a list of things we were doing to help my son, I couldn’t name one thing I do to help myself handle my son’s challenges. I had never actually even thought about it. No one had ever asked me how his diagnosis affects me, let alone a person I barely know.
If you know a special needs mom, ask them about their child. Listen to their explanations about why their child behaves a certain way. Don’t judge their parenting from small snapshots of one day. Trust that they know best. Ask them what they are doing for themselves. Parenting a child with sensory processing disorder can be a lonely road. But one person with a genuine interest and concern for your child and for you can make you feel better and remind you to take care of yourself, too.