As a parent, I always wonder if the “sensory” issues will just go away. I see so many blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, and online articles about young children with sensory processing disorder, but rarely do I read about teenagers.
In my mind, I want to believe that as children grow older their ability to cope with the disorder becomes better, some of their reactions becomes less intense, and maybe even some of the issues disappear. Nothing I have read gives me a clear indicator of what is in our future or of what my expectations should be.
I decided to look at some checklists online and compare the infant/toddler checklist to the teenager/adult checklist and see if I could note any changes in how my son’s sensory issues are manifesting themselves. I used the SPD checklist for infants and toddlers and the SPD checklist for adolescents and adults.
Let’s just say that exercise DID NOT help me feel better about our situation. Looking at the infant/toddler checklist didn’t seem so bad. My son cried non-stop for 7 months, could only be soothed by the sound of the hair dryer, hated the feel of certain clothes, never knew how hard he touched pets or other children, was easily frustrated, threw major tantrums, was frighted by sudden loud sounds, had funny hand movements when excited, didn’t like tags in clothing, was extremely impulsive, engaged in choking and biting other children and had no ability to calm himself.
However, he was cute, engaging, played, and hit all the developmental milestones. He was a really smart baby. and toddler. At first I thought he just had colic. Then I thought he was just frustrated because he couldn’t yet communicate his wants and needs. Being fluent in American Sign Language, I started signing with him. That initially helped with some of his tantrums around food, but the other behaviors continued.
Now when I look at the checklist for adolescents and adults, it makes me realize just how much sensory issues affect my son’s daily life. Here’s just a sample from the list: bothered by clothing (tags, seam, etc.), has fidgets in his pockets, very sensitive to pain, can’t wear new clothes, hates to be barefoot, avoids amusement rides, will often rock while sitting, dislikes changes in routine, very “emotional” or “sensitive”, can’t seem to finish anything, difficultly making a decisions, prefers solitary activities, avoids groups, impulsive, trouble relating to peers, a “sore” loser, strong feeling of anger or rage, easily frustrated, has panic or anxiety attacks, plagued by fears or phobias, sensitive to loud sounds or commotion, easily distracted, can not attend public events or places due to excessive noise, difficulty following directions, overreacts to sudden or loud sounds, appears “lazy” or unmotivated, difficulty going to sleep and waking up, difficulty judging how much pressure to apply, becomes engrossed in an activity and tunes everything else out, repetitively picks at things that are not there, repeatedly touches his hair/head, distractible and unorganized.
And that’s only what I checked! It doesn’t include things like:
- funny hand movements or vocalizations when excited
- seeks out sensory input in odd ways (makes pancake batter wet and dry to play with)
- will only use a certain kind of clay because of the feel
- wants a certain body wash and shampoo because of the smell
- refuses to go the skate rink, mall, arcade or bowling alley
- cracks every joint possible
- cuts things up just to feel how the fabric cuts in the scissors (furniture, stuffed animals, slippers)
I started writing this blog post thinking that by comparing the sensory issues my son was experiences as young child to the ones he’s now experiencing as an adolescent might help me to gain some better insight and perspective on where we are headed. Unfortunately, I just feel more confused.
I do, however, know that we are BOTH better communicators. We BOTH are learning how to listen and talk about what the issues are and how best to help him through his teen years. As we all know, there’s a lot happening during adolescents that he would rather I NOT discuss. But all those changes on top of just trying to be him must really be hard.
While some days I’m not the most compassionate, understanding Mom in the world, I think all any of us can do is our best one day at a time. The SPD may not go away, lessen, diminish, or be cured, but we can start by helping our teens to communicate and advocate for themselves.