Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sensory before Behavioral

I think I take for granted that I ended up with one of the best occupational therapists around when Isaac was in Early On.  She gave me such a thorough basis of what was going on with my kid that it made the research road a lot smoother.  Not everyone is so lucky.  Once I understood that not all of Isaac's "behaviors" were just maturity or discipline issues, we started getting somewhere.  The fact is, if you have a quirky kid, you can discipline til your blue in the face with little results because those quirks aren't what you think they are.  Ask me how I know.  Why, experience and gray hair, of course.

Isaac used to throw a tantrum, was restless, cranky, or just plain crazy every time we went to the grocery store.  It got to the point where Andrew and I were playing rock, paper, scissors to see who had to take him to the grocery store.  Restaurants weren't much better.  We had been taking Isaac to restaurants since he was born, but once he hit that toddler stage it was nightmarish.  The rules hadn't changed, but he had.  We would have to take turns entertaining him, taking him for a walk outside, etc.  We would look at people who expected us to go out to dinner with them and him like they had three heads.  We would leave our nice, relaxing dinner out exhausted.  We had no idea why taking him to either place was such a fight- UNTIL our OT shed some light on these behaviors.  The kid was overstimulated and we were giving him no tools to deal with these sensory issues.

Of course, the diet helped big time. We also have some tricks up our sleeve for these situations:

1) The sunglasses.  Isaac is known for his red sunglasses and/or super cute hats.  It's not a coincidence.  These items help block out weird fluorescent or super bright sun light that observation has told us he is really sensitive to.  We do not make Isaac take his sunglasses off in the store, restaurant, or church unless he wants to, because they help him filter over-stimulus.  They let him take a break from making complete eye contact with strangers/crowds without looking rude.  In fact, he looks down right adorable in them.

2) Pack a distraction.  My newest trick is to go to the library right before grocery shopping with Isaac.  This way we get a few "new" books for him to look at in the cart while we shop.  He gets to intensely focus on the pictures instead of all the people, etc.  It also gives him something other than echos and jargon to talk about when he's feeling overwhelmed.  I also keep a Leap Frog Text and Learn toy in my car as an option.

3) Pack a sensory option.  Some parents keep sensory chews on hand for some sensory stimulation.  We keep these at home and hand them out when we notice Isaac chewing on his fingers or straws.  Our favorite quiet sensory toy to have on hand for places like church is play foam.  It's not messy or sticky, but gives out a ton of sensory input, is quiet, and helps Isaac sit and listen rather than run for the door.  A young woman with autism also suggested a hard piece of wax to me for the church setting.  She said her mom used to give her a piece and it would take her the whole service of rubbing it in her hands to get it soft.

Once we started addressing the sensory issues, a lot of the "behavior" issues went away.  It was easier for him to function and listen.  When you're dealing with a quirky kid, you can't fix everything with good old fashioned discipline.  You have to get creative.  What you think is rudeness or naughtiness might just be a little kid trying to feel balanced and deal with their surroundings.  Observe and the patterns will emerge.  Soon you'll know what your child needs to be successful in public.  Do I sound like a know-it-all?  Maybe a little, but my kid just got a PERFECT report sheet home from school yesterday.  Oh, now that's bragging., I guess I'm just super proud of him and incredibly grateful for how well school is going this year and I want to spread the joy!  Yes, that's it.  = )

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