Children with SPD aren’t always able to verbally express how they feel. They barely understand themselves most times. However, through a lot of research, discussions with other ‘sensational’ parents and my own observations working with my daughter and son, allow me to share with you ten things these children would love you to know, if they could tell you.
1. I’m not a “bad kid”. These children melt down easily, especially in the Preschool years. This can lead to an observer thinking they simply have behavioural difficulties requiring extra discipline. Nothing is further from the truth. These children melt down because they become overwhelmed with sensory stimulation that isn’t being processed effectively. I explain it to people this way.
Think of what it’s like at the mall during Christmas walking around in heavy, warm, uncomfortable clothes; the different smells; the flashing lights; music belting out (too loudly) from the stores; people bumping into you…it’s chaos. That’s how these children feel on a regular basis as they can’t tune anything out. Thinking of it in that perspective can make one understand, perhaps a little bit, the reason for meltdowns.
2. I’m interested in people. A huge misconception is that sensory sensitive children withdrawal socially because they don’t like people. Not true. In fact, they’d give anything to be running around with all those children on the playground. But they’re so terrified of being overstimulated, they avoid social or new situations to avoid discomfort.
3. Please give me some extra time. Children with SPD need a lot more time than other children to get used to new people or situations. They need extra time to absorb all of the sensory triggers involved before they can feel comfortable.
When meeting someone new, neither of my children could even look at a person until they’d listened to, and gotten used to, the person’s voice and personal smell. Please be patient and give them the time they need to absorb what’s new.
4. I am smart. Nothing hurts these children more, or makes me angrier, than when people treat them as if they’re unintelligent just because of their reactions. Please don’t pass judgement based on their social issues or responses. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
5. I’m not angry with you. This was something I constantly had to remind my other two kids, classmates or other children around us of when my children melted down.
In that frame of mind, these children have a tendency to lash out at the closest person to them, usually a sibling or parent. This is because there’s usually a build-up of events they hold in until that one last sensory stimulus sets them over the top.
These kids don’t mean to be hurtful. They often feel they have no control over what’s going on inside them and don’t always know the proper way of expressing.
6. Please respect my personal space. As mentioned above, it’s important to remember that a detail as small as our own personal scent, even if it’s a good smell, can be enough to send them into sensory overload.
Don’t be afraid to approach them, just do so while keeping in mind that it takes them a little bit longer to get used to your presence. Ask them if they’d mind you sitting with them. Start with activities they’re comfortable with. You can even ask them what they do or don’t like about new people or things. Most times, if people take it slowly with them, they’ll ease quicker and respond more positively.
7. I find it hard to focus on too many things at once. This is the core of our kids’ disorder. Because their brains can’t tune anything out, their attention is continually being pulled in different directions. They are still learning how to focus on one specific task. We need to give them our patience as they attempt that task, then be there to help them calm down if they get frustrated.
8. I prefer what’s familiar to me. When a child has symptoms on the more severe side, they cling to what they know and can be rigid about routine. Easing new people or experiences into what they’re already comfortable with is a great way to start then, eventually, they’ll be willing to try something new.
9. Please see the things I can do. Even I’ve been guilty of this. We can get so caught up in trying to help our child cope with their struggles, we tend to forget what they can already do well. Acknowledge their talents and highlight them in times of frustration when they struggle with things they find difficult.
10. I love you, even if I’m not always able to show it. It can be so painful, especially as a Mom, not to be able to give or receive the usual signs of love and affection from our ‘sensational’ child. If their tactile sensitivity is high, they can’t handle even the gentlest of touches. This doesn’t mean our children don’t feel love, or even want to give it. It simply means their sense of touch is different from ours.
Until my daughter was in Grade Six, I could count on one hand how many times she’d hugged me by putting her arms around me and not just sticking her head out at me and saying, “Hug.” But I knew that she loved me, and she knows I love her.
Aside from all of these points, the most important thing our kids would want you to know is that they are just like any other child, they just need to do things a bit differently.
Knowledge leads to understanding, and that’s so powerful.