This week was rough for Tiny. He got in trouble at school. In fact, his teacher told me Wednesday that since Christmas break he had been having a hard time. We had a talk with him in his language (trains, man, trains), and made sure he understood that some of the things he gets after school – his prize from the prize box, Slushy Monday and Donut Friday, choosing the music in the car, etc. – were rewards for a job well done.
Don’t do the job, we explained, and you don’t get the rewards.
We’ve been working hard with him, because a few months ago he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. His eagle-eyed teacher knew in September that his constant motion, his inability to sit still had nothing to do with defiance, and nothing to do with how smart he is (I mean, he can read now). “I can tell he wants to be still and listen,” she said. The school even had someone observe him, and we all met together.
So in November, after a lengthy assessment by an OT, he began occupational therapy. His formal diagnosis of SPD was almost a relief – we finally knew why, and could help him.
A session a week with Miss Tara, and slowly but surely we’re seeing results. He’s working on self-modulating – checking his sensory seeking to make sure he is being appropriate for the situation. He’s learning to make both sides of his brain work together – fun fact, but because he walked and cruised earlier, his brain and body didn’t get the chance to learn to work together like babies learn while crawling. He’s learning all of this stuff now, along with proper pencil grip and yes, as I mentioned, learning how to seek sensory input in less disruptive ways.
Tiny’s day now consists of getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast and then heading outside to pull his heavy wagon around the yard and run before we leave for school. This is called heavy work. His backpack has two full water bottles in it, so that when he carries it around, he also sneaks in some heavy work. He sometimes wears a therapy vest with about 5 pounds of weight in it, or uses a weighted lap blanket. He has fidgets (small textured toys that fit in your hand to quietly manipulate) to keep his fingers busy while he listens. He has a kicky band on the legs of his chair to kick against quietly.
He tries very hard to remember to keep his engine idled (or in our case, to be a really useful, always on time steam engine) during school. This effort is herculean. Imagine your most mentally challenging day of work. Now think about how you felt at the end of the day. And then multiply that by about three, and add several trips through waist-deep sucking mud.
That’s Tiny by the afternoon. And he still has family dinner, bath and bedtime reading to go. So with his OT’s blessing, he gets an hour of screentime (I have a special app that actually locks him out of his phone when the time is up) so he can quietly decompress. It’s probably the most still he is all day, and after that decompressing time, he is able to sit through and participate in conversation during family dinner, and reading with his daddy.
His OT began working with him on learning when to be fast, and when to be slow, and what is just right. She suggested we come up with a chart with common language we could all use across the board to let Tiny have cues for now. So we discussed it with Tiny, and worked out our own cues.
Thomas with his jet engine is fast. He’s good for situations like running races with daddy, recess, and running in the backyard. Regular Thomas is a steam engine and is really reliable, really useful and right on time. He is perfect for circle time and doing our school work at our desk. A freight train with lots of cars is very slow.
I say all this (in extraordinarily rambling fashion) because I know sometimes you see a kid who is wiggles and can’t be still and you wonder why the parent isn’t stopping him. Or you wonder why your friend is OK letting her kid use a screen. Or you wonder why your neighbors bundle up their kid and send him out early in the morning to play.
“Why can’t they control their kid?” you may have thought. I know I have. I know I went for a year wondering why I couldn’t control my kid.
And now I know that if Tiny is just wiggling a little bit, it means he’s trying to tamp it down. He’s doing a good job, and I should smile at him and thank him for being still and patient. If he’s moving around a lot and running like a madman, he needs me. He needs me to hug him, calm him, and be his friend. Knowing what drives this need move constantly has made me a better mother. I couldn’t change Tiny’s need for sensory input, but I could change my outlook.
None of this is ideal. It can, honestly, be a giant pain to worry about how your kid will behave in certain situations. It can be taxing and worrisome and discouraging to hear about how hard your kid is struggling to sit through a few minutes of circle time or how he refuses to do his handwriting work.
But I also know that I could have it far worse. And I’m choosing to think of this as a blessing of sorts. It’s teaching me patience – in fact, I’m finding reserves of patience I didn’t know I possessed. It’s teaching me that sometimes a destination has several possible routes, and none of them are wrong unless they’re wrong for you or your family. I’ve learned that I can plan all I want, but children are on this earth to humble you and make hash of all of your best-laid plans. We are blessed with a healthy child who is bright and eager to learn – and will demand it, but needs help sometimes moving distractions out of the way. We can do that. We are doing that.
After Wednesday’s talk with the teacher, I waited worriedly for Thursday’s report. But he got it. He cooperated. He paid attention. He did his work. And Friday, because he continued his efforts. we went to a movie at a dollar theater.
On our walk from the car to the theater, he was walking slowly. “Where’s your jet engine? Why are you going so slow?” I asked.
“Oh, I left it in the car, because this is not a situation for a jet engine,” he said.
We’re gonna be alright.