Last week, I had one of those days.
If you have a child with SPD, I know you know what I mean. The type of day that, despite your best efforts, everything makes your child unravel at the seams and no amount of patience, heavy work, or visual schedules can fix it. There are tears, rage, tantrums, and desperation. Oh, and my child was upset too…
But seriously. For my daughter, it was just the type of morning that she woke up more “out of sync” than normal. Getting dressed and having her hair brushed is rarely a pleasant experience, but that day it was torture. There were approximately 14 meltdowns before breakfast, and no nap in sight.
To top it off, she had her group physical therapy class that afternoon. Since she struggles most with her vestibular sense, things like climbing, running, and jumping can cause her distress. My husband was coming with us for the first time to watch her class since he had the day off work (cue scary change-of-routine music).
Much to my surprise, the class started great. A small group of rowdy two-year-olds playing on gymnastic equipment. Adorable. She even let my husband help her with the exercises, which was a shock to both of us. Then it happened–he pushed her just a little to hard to try something she wasn’t comfortable with. And. She. Lost. It.
I saw it coming and I grabbed her. She started lashing out in violence, which she never does. Her screams echoed off the walls, and I’m pretty sure another kid got so scared he started crying too. Did I mention it was unseasonably warm out and the AC was broken in the room? It became a sauna of sweaty, screaming kids, and my child was the ring-leader.
While her group PT class is definitely a safe place with understanding therapists and moms with children of various ability levels, lets face it–its still not fun to be the mother of the one who’s losing it. I held her tight so she couldn’t hurt me or herself, found a quiet corner, and gave my best, well-rehearsed “calm down” speech. Slowly she regulated, and we calmly, gently made our way over to the trampolines to try again.
More screaming, more hitting, more sweating. Calm down, repeat. After about the fifth meltdown, my husband left the room, since even his presence was upsetting to her, because it wasn’t the normal routine.
And that’s when it hit me. Despair. No matter what I said or did, she just wasn’t going to calm down. I felt like such a failure. We sat in the corner the rest of the class and I just held her while she cried. My mind was blank, my nerves were shot, and I was out of ideas.
As we all walked out to the car, I fought back tears. All the normal things I think after a hard day dealing with SPD came flooding in. Why is every part of every day so hard? Why can’t I have more patience? Why can’t we just be dealing with normal two-year-old stuff? I totally failed back there, am I really cut out for this?
And then, completely unexpectedly, my husband broke the silence.
“You are a saint. How do you always know what to say to help her? I could never survive a day like that, or be that patient.”
I was floored. To be clear, my husband is not the type that runs around complementing me. I’m pretty sure in two years that was the first time he ever commented on my parenting at all. This wasn’t lip service, so what gives? Did he not see me floundering around earlier, about to lose my mind? Did he not see me reaching the end of my rope, muttering the same things to her over and over like some sort of crazy woman?
I realized two very important lessons that day. Number one, we are all probably overestimating how much other people–even our spouses–understand what it is to be the caregiver of a child with SPD. But that’s another story for another day. 🙂 Number two, and my main point here, is that as a mom (or dad!) of a child with SPD, you are underestimating what a good job you are doing.
How do I know this about you? Well for starters, you’re reading this article in your spare time, so you certainly care about helping your child. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision in the middle of a meltdown or a bad day and feel like a failure. Inside you may feel anxious, embarrassed, and incompetent. But what you are actually doing is parenting your child with Sensory Processing Disorder, and you are doing an excellent job.
You need to cut yourself some slack because I suspect you are vastly underestimating all the good that you are doing for your child even when it feels like you aren’t. Your child is listening, even when all you know to say is “Mommy’s here, you’re safe,” over and over. When you hold them to calm them down, they feel it. Your love runs deep in your child, and they will carry it with them for the rest of their lives.
There are going to be bad days–really bad days. No amount of occupational therapy, books, or sensory bins can prevent that. But please do yourself and your child a favor and remember that the bad days are caused by a nervous system failure, and not a parenting failure.
So the next time you’re drawing stares in Target because you’re that family with the screaming kid, know that you are dealing with something that most people can’t even imagine, and I think you’re a saint. 🙂
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