I read an article last night called “What does Sensory Processing Disorder REALLY mean?”–the first point resonated with the topic of today’s post:
Sensory processing disorder means never knowing how your child is going to feel from day to day.
This truth used to overwhelm me on a daily basis. I was bracing myself every day, hoping and praying that Benji would have a “good day.” We could go for 2, 3, 4 days and he would be happy, eager to learn, help, and listen. Other days, we struggled long and hard for hours on end.
It seemed like he would just randomly fall apart, melt down–it was so unpredictable. And the aftermath of a sensory trigger could last minutes…or hours.
My nerves were stripped raw. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed and do it all over again.
After the terrifying meltdown at church, I started being more vigilant about trying to figure out what caused Benji to overload and shut down.
It was difficult–I would look into our days and weeks and put my finger on the activities or events that I thought would be a struggle for him, but I would still guess wrong. He would do fine at the doctor’s appointment and then have a tantrum about trying a new food at dinner.
In May we went to Busch Gardens with my brother. We were all looking forward to a day at the amusement park, but Aaron and I were bracing ourselves.
You don’t get much more sensory overload than crowds, loud rides and music, spinning, swinging, plunges, and unpredictable food and schedules.
I mean, people who don’t have SPD get sensory overload at amusement parks! We were ready to have a good day but we were planning for a meltdown.
As we fell into our hotel beds that night, we were mutually shocked and surprised–Benji had a great day! Not a single meltdown. Sure, he had refused some rides. No roller coasters for him! But that’s pretty normal for any 7 year old. He handled everything so well! Maybe, just maybe, we avoided the pitfalls of SPD today.
It was not to be. The next day he crashed long and hard. He didn’t have a violent meltdown like he did in church but the Crash lasted all day.
He was in a very bad mood, grumpy and irritated at everything.
He wouldn’t obey or come when he was called.
He wouldn’t/couldn’t listen to directions.
He refused to talk most of the day and would only make grunts or sad-puppy whines.
On one hand, I really understood. We thought the crash was coming, as much as we hoped it wouldn’t. But on the other hand, it was exhausting and frustrating, especially since my brother took us to see the ships at the Naval Base where he worked–a rare and awesome experience that we wanted the boys to enjoy and remember.
Overall, it was a pretty miserable day. The bad mood spread, more contagious than a head cold.
But bad moods eventually fade, and the next day was better. Our day at Busch Gardens confirmed what we have been observing for a few months: Sensory overload results in a reaction of some sort, either in the moment or sometime in the near future.
I’ve realized it is a lot like negative emotional experiences: You can either process and deal with stressful or negative emotions now, or the emotions will come out sideways in the future, maybe even more strongly, and always in a more confusing way.
I think this is why we often feel blindsided with Benji’s SPD: we don’t always know how he is processing sensory information or what he has experienced through the day, especially at school.
But we’re learning.
…learning that after he got his teeth cleaned at the dentist (and did great!) that he was understandably frazzled and emotionally sensitive for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
….that when we went to the lake for a big day of fishing and swimming on Saturday, that I probably shouldn’t have invited people over for dinner on Sunday (huge meltdown that night).
…that I was not surprised to get a phone call on the 2nd day of school because the high of the first day of school was predictably followed by a low.
Dealing with the lows is exhausting and disheartening but realizing that they are on the horizon has helped me to be more understanding of my son’s needs and why he is acting out at certain times.
We’re learning to recognize the signs and plan for the [un]predictability of SPD.