Some days I wondered if this whole “Sensory Processing Disorder” (SPD) was all in my head. Sure, we have some hard days, hard moments, but that’s life, right?
I felt stupid for putting the request for SPD testing on the letter to the school. I was probably just making things up.
Church was (and still is) one of our biggest struggles and it is where I finally realized that while we do have a lot of “normal” days, SPD is real–I was not making it up the other 6 days of the week–and I really needed some solutions to help Benji.
Benji does not like the music at church. He can’t tell me exactly why. It is a bit loud, like most modern churches, but he struggles even during the quieter songs.
For a long time, we thought it was just a discipline issue. He needed to “buck up” and “act right!”
“Take your hands off your ears. You’re being disrespectful.”
“The music does not hurt your ears–stop being so dramatic!”
But after reading more on SPD, especially The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, we realized that this is not a discipline issue–it’s real for him. If he had a choice to enjoy the music time, he would. He is not trying to make himself miserable.
So, now most weeks, we leave him be. He sits or lays on the bench seats with his hands clamped over his ears, his knees tucked to his chest. Any type of comfort I offer is met with furious eyes; he will flinch away from my touch or even shove me away.
He is also very defiant when he feels this way and acts and speaks disrespectfully, which on one hand, is understandable, but on the other hand, is not acceptable.
My husband is better at comforting him during these times, and can sometimes pull him out of The Funk by holding Benji tightly (Benji will struggle against Aaron’s hold but eventually The Funk melts out of him and he calms down), rubbing his back and head firmly, or taking him out and talking to him.**
Sundays started to get a bit better. Aaron’s methods of soothing took a while but they usually worked. In fact, on the rare occasion, Benji would stand next to me and sway or dance during the music.
One Sunday, right after Easter, music time was a smooth and enjoyable experience. When the boys skipped off to Sunday School during the sermon, Aaron and I looked at each other and smiled: See? We’re figuring this out.
What I really figured out that day was that a trigger is a trigger and if the meltdown doesn’t happen now, it is going to happen later.
When we picked up the boys from Sunday School, the teacher meet us at the door. “Benji had a hard time today,” she said softly, telling me about how another child broke his Lego creation
Micah bounded out of the room but Benji didn’t appear. I peeked my head into the classroom and saw Benji sitting against the wall, his knees pulled tightly to his chest.
I went in and knelt beside him. “It’s time to go, buddy.”
He couldn’t speak. He made a noise that sounded like a hurt, scared puppy.
“Your teacher told me you had a hard day. How about we go home and talk about it?”
His body language spoke volumes.
“We need to go.” I put my hand under his upper arm to help him stand. He shoved me away, pushing his back against the wall.
“Stop. You need to stop. Come on, we need to go. ”
Then he kicked out, slamming his heels into my feet over and over again.
My heart pounded. “Aaron?” I called. “I need help.”
Later, Aaron told me that he should’ve handled the situation differently: He should have sat next to Benji and talked quietly, holding him or hugging him until he was calm. But hindsight is 20/20.
Aaron picked Benji up and carried him out. My 7 year old was out of control–he beat his dad on the back, flailing and kicking. He clawed Aaron across the face, pulling at his beard. I watched, horrified and helpless.
It was a scene that every parent dreads. The hall was so crowded. I knew people were staring but I couldn’t even care in that moment. There was nothing I could do about anyone’s reaction.
This was happening.
It was real and all Aaron and I could do was ride the wave of this moment with our son.
I walked through the large parking lot with my four month old in the car seat on one arm, my two year old in the other hand, and my other 7 year old, asking repeatedly what was happening.
“Benji is having a hard time today. Daddy’s helping him. Let’s go to the car.”
I buckled everyone in and waited, shaking.
Aaron and Benji came soon. We talked about what happened–the other child in Sunday School, the Legos, not hitting or kicking people, talking about your feelings. Within a few minutes of being in the car, Benji’s system calmed down.
It took a bit longer for me to follow suit.
We learned a lot that day, about how to handle (or not handle) a meltdown, and about how once the sensory tension builds, it doesn’t dissolve on its own. The tension has to be released somehow. We’re still learning about how to help Benji release this tension in healthy ways.
Most importantly, I learned on that Sunday that This Is Real. I was not imagining things or making things up.
And I did the right thing by starting the process of seeking help for my son.
**We’ve struggled to find a solution to this issue: taking turns taking him out during the music and sitting the lobby; ear plugs (he didn’t like the way they felt); discipline; encouraging him to dance and move; telling him that he just has to sit and be respectful; etc. We do not have a successful solution yet. Thankfully, we have not had a meltdown like this at church since that day in April.