I am so glad that I wrote the post a quirky little kid.
I had forgotten some of the stuff I wrote back then. It reminds me of my despair in trying to help my youngest son with his social and emotional competence.
At the end of all of the testing with the psychologist, all she could offer was “he is who he is”. I interpreted that as ‘quirky and unfixable’. She offered to do some cognitive behavioural stuff with him around his empathy and social issues, but didn’t ooze with confidence about how effective that would be.
The psychologist looked over at my son who was wriggling and squiggling in his chair, and said to me that 5 minutes in a room with a paediatrician, he would have been diagnosed ADHD and we would have walked out the door with a script for Ritalin. I said “I know”. She said that had one of the outcomes on his IQ test been higher, she would have suspected ADHD but there was nothing in his results that indicated that he was ADHD.
I asked about sensory processing disorder. She said it was possible. She did some muscle tensing and relaxation exercises with him, and he instantly became more settled.
I contacted an occupational therapist for an appointment. It took about six weeks to get an appointment for an assessment. In the meantime, I did my own research, and had concluded that my son was having difficulties with his proprioception, vestibular system, and auditory processing.
The assessment was 2 hours long. Unlike the psychologists’ tests, I was able to sit in on these. He was tested for dichotic listening, visual perception, gross motor, fine motor, vestibular processing, auditory processing, proprioception, and core muscle strength. These tests were enlightening. I could see instantly where my son struggled, and he struggled a lot.
What surprised me was his lack of core strength. He is a very solid, strong, and robust boy, but as the OT pointed out he was using his back muscles, rather than his stomach muscles. He was overcompensating in many ways for all of his deficits, and where he couldn’t find a way to compensate for a weakness he would become so overwhelmed that he would explode.
And exploding he was. The tantrums at home occurred about once per week, but they were vicious, and the only strategy we had left was ‘time-out’. At school he was not coping at all, he had uncontrollable rage to the point where he would throw chairs or had to go to the office to calm down.
We had to wait 4 weeks for the report from the OT, and there were no surprises in it. Everything I suspected was confirmed by the report. The 12 page report summed him up in one sentence…
“Presents with challenges processing sensory information, with the overriding feature of his profile being challenges with sensory modulation which impacts: his ability to effectively regulate his level of arousal for attention or matching self to task/situation; his ability to calm when feeling overwhelmed; responding in an adaptive way to incoming sensation; and finally his ability to perform functional tasks such as handwriting and sequence more complex motor actions and skills.”
After receiving the report, we embarked on fortnightly therapy with the OT. The OT has done a lot of physical exercises with my son to build his core strength. Lots and lots of crawling in all sorts of trying conditions and over many types of obstacles. (Yes, he did crawl when he was a baby.) Lots of trampolining where he has to bring his knees right up into his belly. We have to do skin brushing and apply joint pressure. He has breathing exercises. Exercises to strengthen his core muscles.
My husband who was opposed to me getting our son tested in the first place, has since come on board. He accused me of pathologising our son. He said that he was still little, that quirky was ok, and there was nothing wrong with him. I was undeterred. Yes, quirky is absolutely ok as long as it doesn’t turn into dysfunction. Our boys’ struggles were becoming dysfunctional. Kids were coming up to me at the end of the school day to tell me that my boy had not had a good day. That told me that it was becoming his dominant storyline. Not good.
I was also in attendance at a soccer match where the coach was screaming at my son for the whole time. My son wasn’t listening to the coach and his frustration with him was at its peak. I could understand his frustration, for most of the game my son was in the wrong position and had made errors which were conducive to the other team scoring more goals. I noticed the coach’s tendency to sideline my son for half of the games. I felt so sad. At the end of the game, I said to my son, “it looked like you had a rough game today”. He didn’t know what I was talking about. He was oblivious to the coach screaming at him.
I wrote a long email to the coach explaining my son’s difficulties. That although his hearing was good, he had limited capacity to process what he heard. No matter how much you told him (screamed at him) what he should be doing, it was far more efficient to show him. The coach replied that evening and was very thoughtful. The next match day, he got the whole team lined up in their positions and explained the ins and outs of where they should move when the ball approached them from various angles. He was showing the whole team what they should do, rather than telling them. My son got it straight away, and the coach didn’t need to yell at him for the rest of the season.
To complement the sessions with the OT, we have increased our son’s physical load. These kids need to work. I have always said about my eldest boy and now this one, that they should have been born on a farm where they are required to do hard yakka.
My husband takes our son to swimming lessons once per week. He spoke to the swimming teachers about moving him up to the next level where he would have a 45 minute lesson instead of 30 minutes, and where the lessons were held in a calmer environment. The teachers were very sympathetic to the cause and worked with my son to improve his skills so he could get to the next level. They also do more physical work with him, rather than telling him they show him and are very hands on. He has excelled in this higher level.
My husband also extends the amount of time in the pool by getting into the pool with him and giving him toys to dive for, and encouraging him to do more laps. My husband also enrolled our son in judo. That was a stroke of genius. This boy was made for judo. He has achieved his first belt in four months, and will start the new year in a higher grade. We put a fitball in the lounge room, and he bounces and jumps to his hearts delight (we can’t have a trampoline due to our sloping yard). He takes himself out into the yard and does shaolin kungfu type movements with a long pole for hours. We have to keep him moving. Trips to the park for climbing. Bushwalking. Helping with the grocery shopping. Moving, moving, moving, it’s exhausting at times.
But Wow! How far we have come. I hadn’t realised it until I sat down to write this post. The progress has been slow and steady.
A boy moved into his grandma’s house next door about mid year. He is a year older than my boy, but the youngest of three boys like mine. I warned the grandma that my boy can be quite immature at times. She is very kind and said that it would be ok. When the two boys got together to play, the differences between them stood out like a sore thumb. Then the boy went away with his mum for a couple of months. Now he has returned and they have become such strong and good friends. Another reminder of how much my boy has changed.
My boy wanted some Bakugan toys for his birthday. We got a big bundle of 50+ toys second-hand from Ebay. These toys are intricate and delicate. I was worried. In the past he would have them all broken within days. To date, none have been broken.
This past school term (11 weeks) he has not asked me to help him get dressed for school once, and he has been ready on time most days.
I love that he is redefining himself and what he can do. Things are still not perfect at school, but they are better. My main concern is that whilst my son’s results in maths are ‘outstanding’, his performance in English and writing are very poor. Whilst the rest of the class has to write a half a page, the teacher accepts one short sentence from my son. Writing is a big struggle due to the amount of pressure he puts on the pencil. He also has difficulties getting his ideas out of his head and onto the page. He is headed for Year 4 next year. He needs to get better at writing as he approaches high school. I’m considering getting him tutored to improve his self esteem in writing and give him more practice in a nurturing environment.
More importantly, my son has enjoyed the process. I was honest with him all the way. He has found it a relief to know the reasons why he is different. Yes, sometimes he uses it as an excuse, especially when he doesn’t want to do his least favourite activity – writing. We use it as a baseline, trying to think of ways to improve his skills. We are very relaxed about it though. The OT wanted me to do skin brushing four times per day. I told her he would be lucky to have it done four times per week. My son is not a special project. I try not to see sensory processing disorder and limitation, but opportunity for growth. We are walking the line between normalising and beneficial, and also what is sustainable. Our experience also shows how asking other people for help can support your child’s endeavours. He is making good progress and he is happier, and that is all a parent can hope for.