My son’s meltdowns have been particularly spectacular the last few days. I’m not sure what is triggering him. It might be because we’ve been trapped in the house for days on end because of the weather. It might be because he hasn’t been to playschool in a long time because of illness (first the teacher’s and then his). It might be because he’d been doing so well lately that I’ve begun to expect more from him and my expectations have outpaced his abilities. It could be all of these things. It could be none of these things. I’ll likely never know.
What I do know is that yesterday afternoon, we had a great time. No meltdowns. Lots of cooperation. Happy boy. What did we do differently? No, strike that – what did I do differently yesterday afternoon? (Let’s be honest, the adults are the ones in these situations with the ability to change their behaviours and actions. Our kids are running on auto-pilot with very little impulse control.)
For starters, I turned off the computer to make sure that he didn’t languish in the basement all day, watching YouTube videos of Hot Wheel commercials from 1972. He will happily spend the entire day in the basement, TV on and YouTube on at the same time, while playing with his trains or cars. Sensory seeker much? Ha!
Next, I planned out stuff for us to do together. These were the mundane tasks of a stay-at-home-mom that I was going to do anyway – empty and reload the dishwasher, fold laundry, put away the toys, and vacuuming – but I gently forced him to help. Vacuuming is a great heavy work task. If it weren’t so much work to clear the living room floor of all those toys, I might do it more often! I also decided to spend some time doing a “craft” with him.
I have a few workbooks that I picked up at a local teacher’s store to help him with his fine motor skills. He did a couple of scissor worksheets, a connect-the-dots worksheet, and a couple of matching worksheets. One of the scissor worksheets was a simple puzzle, so he coloured the pieces and then taped them together. Then he taped his completed puzzle to a piece of construction paper. Manipulating a roll of tape is a great fine-motor control exercise. You just need to get over your own anxieties about them wasting an entire roll of tape! Since his fingers are double-jointed, he really needs to do these kinds of hand-strength-building exercises. The trouble is that most of them fatigue him so quickly that he doesn’t keep it up for very long. But the tape was a huge success!!
Finally, I made sure to get his pressure vest on him. When I do put it on him, I try to do it before suppertime, as that is the time when we’re most likely to see sensory-triggered meltdowns. And we had a pretty big meltdown at supper last night. I actually saw him hit the point of running out of patience and coping skills. He hit the wall, and literally melted. In hindsight, we probably should have packed it in right there, but we pushed through anyway. Supper was eaten and actually made it into his stomach, so I guess that is a success in some sense, right?
I guess the take-away message for me from yesterday is that I need to do a better job of managing and orchestrating his days. I need to get his visual schedule up and use it daily. I need to structure his meals, especially supper, so that he has the greatest chance of success. These are all things that are within my abilities, and this will allow him to expand his abilities.
Realizing that I have the ability to have this kind of impact on his day-to-day success is really empowering. For so many parents, I get the impression that they don’t really understand what their SPD kid experiences every day. But I should understand. I remember being his age, and being dragged through the mall with my mother, who wanted to go clothes shopping. The smell of the clothing store was so overwhelming to me. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that the smell of a clothing store was no longer painful to me. I remember one department store being particularly awful – not only was women’s clothing right at the entrance, but they had a bunch of cosmetics counters right there, too. To four-year-old me, it was like running into a wall of stink! I remember the intolerable irritation from clothing tags. I remember the disgusting feeling of plastic screen-printing on the front of my shirts. I remember the full-body heebie-jeebies from being forced to eat boiled potatoes.
This particular insight should make me a more patient SPD-mom. But the truth is, some days I’m really patient, and some days I’m not. Just like I’m sure that parents who have very few sensory issues of their own are really patient some days, and not so much on others. But we all do the best we can. My best will need to include remembering four-year-old me just a little more often, and displaying just a bit more compassion and empathy for my four-year-old as he deals with our sensory-rich world.