I have two children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). The symptoms and triggers are different in each child, but the meltdowns often look like one of them is having just an ordinary tantrum. It’s socially acceptable to have a meltdown when you have a toddler and people give you the knowing nod as they pass by. But what happens when the child is past the toddler age, able bodied and suddenly drops to the ground and screams loudly? It’s no longer cute to others and passersby will give you a disapproving look. They can’t see SPD and to them, it’s a case of a spoiled child who needs more discipline.
The truth is that no amount of behavior modification will cure SPD. We manage it with therapies and we avoid challenging situations but sometimes things will happen without notice. Sometimes the place is too overwhelming or sometimes a smell or bright light set of a chain of events that unravel the child. We use brushing techniques and weighted blankets and swings and squeezes. We have chewies and fidgets and compression garments. These things were foreign to me just a few years ago, but now they are as common as reminding the kids to wear their hats and gloves.
SPD is not a measure of one’s parenting techniques.
I have five children and I had been a Mom for over 10 years before we had a child with that diagnosis. Just as we wouldn’t tell people to just “get over” their broken bone or “be firm” to cure their chronic pain, we can’t discipline SPD. What we see on the outside is not what the child is experiencing on the inside. It is not within their control to regain balance and calm.
SPD is hard for the parent AND hard for the child.
Public meltdowns are embarrassing but sometimes unavoidable. More education is needed to understand this disorder, but what’s needed most of all is compassion.
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