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The Heart Knows Best: Dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder

As parents, we are fortunate enough to get flooded with advice from our friends and family. Some of it welcomed, some of it not; some of it sought out, and some of it just thrown at you. As a first-time parent, I have had many contributors along the way, and I have gotten some great advice. I’ve also gotten advice that just wasn’t for me or my child. Your heart is a great filter, and your instincts serve you well; sometimes, you just have to follow your heart in order to make the best decisions.

My daughter is 16 months old, and she has brought so much joy to my life. As with all children, we have had our challenges. Sleeping has been quite a roller coaster.  Her sleeping was amazing from about 8 to 16 weeks. I felt so blessed. My infant was sleeping 8+ hours a night! I would swaddle her, place her in her crib wide awake and she would fall fast asleep. It was amazing!!!

Around 16 weeks something abruptly changed. From 16 weeks on, the sleeping has been challenging. Typically, only I can put her down, she needs to be massaged, and also have calming music. Sometimes it can take a long time for her to fall asleep. At different points in this sleeping battle, she would wake up six times a night and I was the only one who could soothe her. For a few months it was so bad, that if Dad even said her name, or tried to help by patting her on the back, the screaming would intensify and Sophia would become even more upset. Needless to say, the last year or so has been exhausting.

I’ve sought advice and sometimes I’ve just vented to friends and family. Sometimes verbalizing things just takes the weight off. I’ve gotten a lot of advice around the “cry it out method,” but with Sophia, it just never felt right. I’m not against it by any means, and I think for some babies it works. It may also work for us later down the road. Right now, I have a child who will just escalate her needs by screaming even louder if they are not met. She can work herself up in to some serious fits, which usually end with her vomiting all over the place. It just left me with a giant mess and a baby who was beyond consolable. It was not working for us and my heart told me it was not for Sophia. I later came to find out that she had some underlying sensory issues that impacted her emotional stability and self-soothing capabilities.

In the first year, there were some other challenges and behaviors that were a bit off. The developmental specialist at Sophia’s school mentioned to my husband and me when Sophia was 10 months old that she thought Sophia might have a bit of trouble with sensory input and outputs. I’ve got to say that hearing something might be wrong with your child is extremely difficult. I immediately felt my guard go up and thought, “How could this woman make a judgment like this about my 10 month old?”

Her approach and some of her comments were a little uncalled for, like: “If you don’t do something about this now, you will find that these are the types of children who frequent the principal’s office.” When I left that day, I was seriously irritated. I went back to work and vented to some co-workers and thought this woman was a nut job. Later that night, I decided to really make an effort to observe Sophia’s behaviors and to not take such a defensive approach. I did some reading on Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and things started to click and make sense. I suddenly understood why Sophia had such a difficult time sleeping and why she needed so much physical contact and other sensory input. I suddenly understood why she was always on the move and constantly looking for something new.  I started to understand why she would eat her pureed peaches, but would not even touch the freshly cubed peach. She was checking a lot of boxes for a hypo-sensitive and sensory-seeking kid.

She also had some boxes checked on the opposite end of the spectrum: for example, she’s pretty hyper-sensitive to textures, but all of a sudden, the things I was chalking up to normal first year stuff wasn’t exactly normal when you put it all together. Sure, most parents struggle, but we were struggling in quite a few areas.

The next morning, I talked to my husband and said I thought it would be good to have her evaluated by the Nevada Early Intervention Services. My stance was that  I would rather be proactive, since there is so much that can be done in the first three years and if she passed the assessment, great; if not, we’ll get her the help she needs.

My husband and I went with our instincts and set up an assessment with Early Intervention. After waiting about a month, Sophia had her initial assessment and was accepted into the program to help with her sensory processing problems. After another long wait, we were assigned an occupational therapist and a developmental specialist (who have been lifesavers, by the way). They have given us so many great techniques to try and things to implement. Our OT said she is 100% confident that Sophia will do well, and thinks we just need to find tactics and methods to help her sort through her issues.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen many positive changes. For example, Sophia used to bang her head on things all the time. She would do it for fun, she would do it out of frustration, she would do it when she was tired, etc. She was seeking sensory input, and banging her head satisfied that. To fulfill the need for that particular input, her OT advised us to start firmly grasping her forehead during praise. To help with Sophia’s oral defensiveness, she now uses a vibrating toothbrush every day. We do messy play and sensory bins at home, so that she learns to be okay with different textures. We do joint compressions on her throughout the day, to give her firm input throughout her body. There so many little things we do every day now to help her be a little bit more stable. I can’t even begin to describe the changes we are seeing. Are things perfect? No, but I am watching her level out and things are improving. We’re okay with walking barefoot on grass and sand now, people! That is a big deal.

The other day, we went to the farmer’s market and she sampled a variety of fruits. I was so happy I almost cried.  If you read my last blog post, you are aware that we were having some pretty bad biting issues. Our OT and development specialist have been in the daycare several times now, to help the teachers recognize her needs and frustrations before she bites. I am so happy to report that we haven’t had a biting incident in almost three weeks.

Her sleeping is by no means perfect, but it is improving. A few months ago I was up 3-6 times a night, now it is usually only one time. She still needs a lot of comfort to fall asleep, but I am so happy I trusted my gut with “cry it out” because our OT said that is a technique that will likely never work for her. Sophia craves touch and has a hard time self-soothing. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might not have a child who can fall asleep on her own for a while. I will happily sing to her while I massage her back, legs and feet until she falls asleep and provide her with those sensory inputs she needs and craves. For us, it is much easier to invest the time in doing all that, than to hear her cry, have her vomit everywhere and then have to clean a mess and console an enraged toddler.

In a long (and very personal) manner,  I‘m trying to tell you that our hearts and our instincts serve us well, especially when we listen to them. Sometimes you have to turn off your brain and follow your heart. I know it sounds cliché, but it is so very true. Advice is always great, especially from friends and family who have children, but there is no one-size-fits-all model and no all-encompassing parenting guide. Follow your heart and trust in your decisions.


About Meagan Sabich

Meagan Sabich
Meagan Sabich grew up in Las Vegas, NV and moved to Reno in 2004 to attend the University of Nevada, Reno. Since then, she has called Reno her home. She's a former corporate girl who worked for Microsoft and Facebook, before turning in her work badge to be a stay at home mom and wife for her two girls, Sophie and Sadie, and husband Mike. Meagan is an avid cook and very passionate about food. When she gets free time she likes to blog about her cooking adventures on her blog at Waist Not, Want Not, or share recipes for Reno Moms Blog Feed the Fam Series. Meagan is very passionate about fitness and enjoys yoga, zumba and weight training.

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