Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sensory Smarts

"Finding the Key."

Managing sensory issues is my 3rd golden rule. My friend Lindsey Biel in NYC wrote a book and has a website "Sensory Smarts": http://sensorysmarts.com/    If you are in NYC, that is where her practice is.  This book really lays it all out.  I met Lindsey through another venue, and of course we clicked the moment we said the "A" word. She just gets it.  I didn't know her until my son was grown.  How I could have used her input.

Learning what my son's sensory issues were was another key to helping him navigate through life.  From the time he was a baby, I look back and see the places he would tantrum with what seemed like no provocation.  He hated crowded loud restaurants, mall jewelry stores, riding top down in my convertible, and as a baby only ate 2-3 foods.   When he was an infant and started to fuss, the best way to soothe him was to put him in his crib.  As an infant I had no idea he had Autism. I just thought he was unusual. :-)

"Sensory integration" and processing disorders usually accompany Autism.  Someone once gave me a great visualization for what was going on in my child's brain.  If each of his senses was a car driving down it's own road into a bottleneck where the 5 roads turn into one road for all 5 cars to go through.  His senses were in a traffic jam most of the time.  I know how frustrated I get in traffic jams.  I can't imagine being in this state all the time.  No wonder he was miserable so often.

At school the flourescent lights and noisy hallways drove him nuts. Lunchrooms, and gymnasiums, and playgrounds were all overwhelming. The noise of a pencil on that splintery 1st grade paper made writing a miserable task.  He preferred the quiet of a rollerball.   He could hear the silent alarms in mall jewelry stores. We'd push him in the stroller into a jewelry store, or stop in front and he'd start shrieking.  I just thought he hated jewelry. He was a large baby.  I bought most of his clothes at a lovely local 2nd hand shop.  By the time he was 2, he wore a size 4.  All those clothes had been washed and were soft.  When I dressed him in new clothes, he'd take them off.   Now they print the labels on t-shirts.  I used to have to cut them all off and make sure there was no stub poking him.  People touching him randomly in public really set him off.  He has red hair, and little old ladies would comment and touch his head.  He would be sitting in the grocery cart seat and growl.  Oh, grocery stores.  Florescent lights, lots of noise, lots of people, it was exhausting.

Food.  Some kids with Autism eat everything and anything including their own poop.  Some are so picky that they eat little or nothing.  My son was of the second variety.   As a baby he wanted oatmeal and applesauce.  The pediatrician said he'd outgrow it.  Ha!  He couldn't stand anything with a lump, bump, that needed chewing.  I would put the spoon in his mouth, and out the new food would go. I pictured him going to college with a box of oatmeal and a jar of applesauce.  He liked orange juice if it had no pulp.  I had to "strain the orange juice."  His biological Father even tried shoving food into his mouth, making him stay at the table until he finished whatever we were eating. Of course none of this helped at all.  I was learning to pick my battles with my son.  Food was not one I was going to fight.

Eventually, by about 4 he ate 6 foods: pasta with butter and cheese, cheese pizza, cereal, orange juice, vanilla yogurt, and goldfish.  I was thrilled he liked crunchy goldfish.  When I asked our pediatrician what to do at 4.  She said to only offer him what we were eating.  "When he's hungry enough, he'll eat." So for 3 days, he ate nothing but water.  He ended up in the emergency room dehydrated...twice.  I was done with that fight.  6 foods it was.  He went to a camp for children with Autism.  When I contacted the camp I asked about his limited diet.  They said they could handle it.  The first week he was there they called me because he was in the ER there with dehydration.  I think he'd learned to eat white bread with smooth peanut butter while he was there.  So that's what he ate most of the time.

I know many people with autism who are adults.  One man told me he ate canned peas and yogurt every day for 6 years.  Another man told me he ate white bread without the crusts and apple juice for 10.  Both these men are now adults, and eating pretty normally.  Of course food touching other food on a plate is still a no no for them and my son.  He eats many more than 6 foods now.  He's learning to cook and barbeque.  He's still very picky about brands, restaurants, and types of food.  I am happy to say that not fighting that battle was wise.  He just looks like a "foodie."

A quick true story about food.  When he was about 8 he had learned that one could dial 911 and get a police car to arrive.  I didn't know that he had dialed 911 and told them "my mother is torturing me."  The police arrived at our farm in 2 cars, to my surprise.  They told me he had called.  He was overstimulated with all the commotion.  So he was not talking immediately.  The police took him in one room and started questioning him, me in another.  Finally he told them that I was lying to him, and trying to trick him.  They were trying to get details.  After 15 minutes of nothing he said: "she doesn't strain the orange juice, and tries to trick me into drinking it."  That was his beef.  The cops looked at each other, him, me and shrugged their shoulders.  As they left one cop told me: "you've got your hands full Maam."  Oh, really?  I didn't know. :-)

There are so many sensory issues in young kids with Autism.  I can't possibly go into all of them.  That's why my Sensory Smarts is here!   When we moved from the city to our farm my son was 5.  He spoke, but it was garbled.  I had no idea that the quiet of the country was just what he needed.  Every evening in the last hour of daylight, he and I would explore the property.  I love that time of day when the light is golden.  He did too.  During our exploring time, he began to say words and eventually sentences quite clearly.  It was like magic.  He had not been diagnosed yet.  Later, I would find out it was just what his senses needed.

"The Diagnosis"

Thanks for reading.
Each day is a gift. Open now.

1 comment:

  1. I thank God that I found Raising a Sensory Smart Child when my son had been recently diagnosed with SPD. We were lucky. He didn't slip through the cracks, was diagnosed early (age 2 1/2), and had early intervention. I wish I had been more in tune with the degree to which his sensory processing disorder made his life to very hard, especially as a toddler. I'm still learning, 6 years after diagnosis.

    I am glad to have found your blog.