As an educator and a parent I thought I had a good insight as to how to approach families when as a professional I felt that something may not be quite right in their child’s development or behaviour. I had always made sure that I had researched any advice I gave any family to reinforce that their child’s behaviours are age appropriate to some degree, although in other areas they may need some help from not only us as their family and educators but occasionally from outside professionals.
It never dawned on me how a parent might feel until this year.
1 in 20 children has SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). I believe that 1 of those children may be my son Leo. Leo just turned 3. Since Leo has been around 15months old nearly every time we go to the shop, out for dinner or anywhere else relatively busy we have to leave because he either runs away or becomes absolutely hysterical. Not ‘sad hysterical’ but so hysterical he can’t hear a word we are saying, can’t concentrate and then becomes violent and inconsolable until he is in his car seat where he can self-regulate, sometimes taking up to 15 minutes. Leo has a speech delay that I always put down to the multiple ear infections and grommets he had when he was younger. When Leo eats he spits mainly meat out, it didn’t click until now that it is possible that this is related.
While in Tassie for a 8 week holiday Leo developed separation anxiety, so bad that I couldn’t go to the toilet without him seeking me out. He also refused to wear shoes. I got the old ‘just make him wear them’ and ‘he’ll leave them on once he gets used to them’ from everyone and anyone. After 6 weeks of 30-minute tantrums everytime we left the house all because he couldn’t stand to wear shoes, I gave up.
My husband and I had had enough. I thought there must be something going on…parenting shouldn’t be this hard all the time, and that’s when I started researching. I found the SPD Australia website and it was like I was reading information written about Leo.
And then it dawned on me…Every single time Leo would run away or chuck a ‘tantrum’ I would label him as naughty, I would growl at him and I had even gotten to the point of asking him ‘Why? Why do you ruin every time we go out Leo? Can’t you just be good!?’
I’m not silly and I do know he is a 3-year-old boy and don’t worry Leo is mischievous as they come. But most of his big meltdowns had a pattern, they all occurred when there were differences to the environment. When we were in Tassie his environment was vastly different, every time I wasn’t there he would have a meltdown. In busy areas such as markets, water parks, restaurants, etc. He will have a melt down or run away when his room at childcare is noisy and busy he has a meltdown. When his feet are restricted by shoes he will have a meltdown. It took me a while to notice this pattern and when we returned to Darwin I asked his educators to let me know if they suspected anything. That’s when Leo started biting during meltdowns, mainly on big days when the room was very busy and loud.
Leo’s educators are the best, for me it was amazing that they had taken my concerns so seriously and followed through so promptly, I guess in a way it gave me the nudge to really follow through with this, even though I am an educator I am still a parent so I still had a few reservations; only because like every parent, through my eyes my child is ‘wonderfully perfect.’
What I wasn’t expecting was ‘the guilt.’ The guilt that for the past nearly two years I have labelled my own son as naughty, I have lost my cool with him numerous times, I have cried and cried because I got ‘the naughty kid who doesn’t listen.’ I keep thinking if I had of just looked into this sooner I could have helped him so much already; but still, we have loads of time.
It has taken me a week to write this as I have been mostly hugging my Leo Lion and looking at how ‘wonderfully perfect’ he is to me, I have been crying in guilt that I am a bad Mum for taking so long to recognise the signs and taking any chance I can to describe what SPD is to my husband and reading up on it as much as possible.
This is going to be a massive learning journey for Leo, for me, for my husband and for Leo’s educators, but one I know we can conquer together.
Over the past 2 weeks, this has made me reflect so much not only as a Mum but as an educator. I am a professional and I will continue to research any information I intend on giving any families. But I also now know that I will hug and reassure them that they are good parents when giving them any feedback relating to their child’s development because no doubt they will feel ‘the guilt’ too and if I can help them get through that then we can get through anything because ‘together we can give our children the roots to grow and the wings to fly.’
I have attached the SPD Australia web page link here if you would like to know more about Sensory Processing Disorder.
*Leo was diagnosed with SPM (Sensory Processing Modulation) which is a form of SPD on Tuesday 9th February 2017.