One of the things we are working on with C right now is helping her develop self-advocacy skills. We want her to have the ability to not only know what she needs to help regulate her senses in different situations (like grabbing the stress ball she uses to stay focused during circle time at pre-school), but also to speak up appropriately if something doesn’t feel right (rather than having a meltdown or working herself up in anticipation of her needs not being met).
These are good skills for all children to learn, but for kids with SPD, it can be a bit more of a challenge because it’s harder for them (and the people around them) to understand what makes them tick, what might set them off, and why they are so sensitive to it in the first place. Helping C learn what she can do to help herself, and why we are having her do the things we are doing (like special activities and exercises in the morning before she goes to school) is an important part of her therapy – and in little ways, we are beginning to see our efforts pay off.
C has always noticed the sounds around her. Even when she was a baby, she would stop and stare at the sky, looking for the airplane that no one else could hear quite yet because it was still too far away. The vacuum used to scare her; now it just annoys her. We now know that if we give her a heads-up that we are turning it on, she can prepare herself for it rather than being startled by it. During C’s evaluation, we found out that one of the pieces to her SPD puzzle is that she has auditory hypersensitivity – she’s very aware of and can be distracted or irritated by sounds in her environment.
We are lucky – C’s hypersensitivity is much more subtle than it could be. Some kids have a hard time even leaving their homes because they are literally bombarded and upset by the world and all its non-stop noise. For the most part, C has a pretty easy time – she just notices the sounds and can be distracted by them (which can be tricky at school, for obvious reasons). But places like public restrooms can definitely get under her skin. She does not like to be startled by the loud automatic toilets and hand dryers. She has even been known to avoid going to the bathroom until the last minute or have a tantrum and demand that she doesn’t need to wash her hands (uh, yeah you do, kiddo).
Well, we had a little “A-ha!” moment while out to dinner with my family recently. My sister and I took C to the bathroom just before it was time to head home. C went into the stall by herself, took care of what she needed to do, and didn’t flip out over the flush. Then, when she came out of the stall, she very calmly turned to my sister and said, “I think I would like to use a paper towel to dry my hands. I don’t like the hand dryer.” No meltdown – no “I’m scared!” before we had even asked her to wash her hands. She knew what came next, anticipated what was potentially going to upset her, and spoke up politely for herself.
It was a small moment that likely would have gone unnoticed if I wasn’t becoming so aware of the way C sees the world. But for us, it was a big deal. I gave her a big hug and complimented her several times over the rest of the evening for how well she had handled herself in that situation. She seemed really proud of herself, too. I am learning that with SPD, it truly is the little things that can add up to something big…