The other night, as my family had a knock down pillow fight, I laughed to myself. We were flailing and yelling and whooping it up, laughing all the while. If any civilized mother happened to walk past my bedroom, the scene of the wildest pillow fight in all history, she would probably cringe, or roll her eyes, while shaking her head and thinking, “Those Pancake kids are so ill-behaved. Their mother should be ashamed of herself.”
This got me to wondering: before SPD invaded my life, would I have been the kind of mom who battled my children with feathers flying through the air? I’d like to think so, but I’m just not sure. If not for the necessity of providing my children with deep pressure and heavy work, would I be rolling over on top of my children and wrestling with them?
These thoughts led me to a surprising idea: could SPD actually have some positive side effects? Could it *gasp!* be making me a better person? A better mom? Could this disorder–which has, at times, felt like the bane of my existence–actually be improving me? Well, take a look.
Here are just a few things I have learned from SPD:
Be More Creative
Parenting a kid with SPD requires levels of creativity and problem solving skills I never knew I possessed. Every day, I feel like I am called upon to come up with a creative solution to a problem. My son is super over stimulated and in desperate need of some deep pressure? Then, it’s up to me to devise a fun game, like our building a snow man game, where the kids pile pillows and cushions and blankets on top of one another to make a “snow man.”
My kids need to do scooter board exercises, but are resistant? Then I turn it into a race between them and me, and after that I can’t get them off their scooter boards!
I’m often called upon to make up games so that therapy or chores are more fun and so that the kids get the input they need.
Trust my instincts
Trusting my instincts has never been my strong suit. I habitually second guess myself, especially in instances where my instincts oppose the popular opinion. I often defer to others and their opinion, thinking they must be right and I then must be wrong. Over the years, though, I have realized that my instincts are right. I know my kids. I know when something is wrong, and if I have a strong feeling as to how to help them, I should follow that feeling.
Time and again, this has been brought home to me, even by professionals. I will never forget an appointment with a developmental pediatrician in which she told me that not only was I right in not following some advice given to me by a caring friend, but that had I followed the advice, I probably would have done some damage–Danny most definitely would not have improved his speech. In fact, it would have backfired and possibly made Danny’s speech worse.
Honor our limits
I am not so good with saying no to people. I am getting better, because being Danny’s parent has helped me see that I need to respect his limits, as well as my own. This goes along with trusting my instincts, as well. Too often, I have said yes to an engagement despite feeling uneasy, and I have always regretted it. Others may think my rules are too strict or weird, but they work for us. For example, I will no longer let an activity or friends keep me from getting my kids to bed on time, and for us, on time is a very early 7:00 during the school year. I know most parents think I am crazy, but my kids fare so much better with lots of sleep (and frankly, so do I).
Go with the flow or be flexible
One Halloween we took Danny trick or treating at the mall. He was just over 2 years old and we thought he would really enjoy it. Well, Danny ran around the mall for a couple of minutes and then wanted to leave. For a brief moment, I wanted to try and convince him to stay. After all, we had come to the mall with friends and I thought it would be fun. Then, it occurred to me that the point was for Danny to have fun, not me. If being in an overcrowded, noisy mall was hard for him to deal with, then what was the point in staying? So, we left and had a great evening at home with a well-regulated, happy child.
We all know how frenetic life’s pace can get, how full of activities, noise and commitments. I learned early on, though, that Danny cannot handle cramming a hundred and one activities in one day. I had to schedule my days so that we were only getting one or two errands done. Otherwise he would have a really difficult time, which of course, made it very difficult, and thus not worth it, for me. He doesn’t like to rush around from activity to activity, no matter how fun they might be. Instead, we need to plan for lots of down time.
And you know what? That has been an enormous blessing to my family, because I have realized that really, none of us in the Pancake house does very well when we are scheduled to the max. Also, we have had so many amazingly fun adventures just in the down time when we played together with nowhere else to be.
Think outside the box
Parenting a child with SPD is challenging in that your kid probably doesn’t fit the mold of “regular kids.” Before we knew what was going on with Danny, and later with Charlotte, I scoured countless parenting books trying to figure out why my son would have meltdowns and what I could do about them. None of the books helped, because they were coming from the assumption that kids with meltdowns had discipline problems, whereas Danny’s meltdowns were sensory related. Much of the advice given in the books actually exacerbated Danny’s problems.
Once we understood SPD a bit more, we were able to help him, but even then we couldn’t always find answers in SPD books, because each kid’s SPD manifests itself in such unique ways. Instead, we had to get creative, wacky even. We would have regular wrestling matches with Danny and let him jump on our bed in order to get the deep pressure that he craved. We filled a sandbox with beans and kept it in our family room so Danny could get the tactile input he needed. I regularly let the kids roll around in funny foam (foam soap for kids) naked. And so often, a thought will come to me and we follow it, despite its seeming craziness, and it works. Both Bil and I are now much better at thinking outside the box in dealing with parenting issues that we are struggling with.
The Power of Laughter
I cannot tell you how many times laughter has saved us from a potential meltdown. Being silly and making the kids laugh encourages them to be much more willing to do their therapy exercises and cooperate with other less than pleasant activities. Danny has some pretty big issues with clothing and getting dressed for school can be such a chore. Some days, I’ll offer him a shirt of his brother’s, which is several sizes too small, or I’ll pull out a pink frilly shirt, just to make him laugh. This often will diffuse the situation. And having a good sense of humor about life just makes dealing with SPD a little bit easier for my husband and me.
I can think of still more lessons that I have learned from SPD, like not to judge other moms, learn to be more grateful for the small things, and a million ways to use dried beans. Though I have spent many a day cursing the existence of SPD in my family, I suppose it hasn’t all been bad.
After all, we have the coolest family room in town with a swing and all!
Now, it’s your turn. What lessons have you learned from SPD?