Just a little over a year ago, my oldest daughter, Eloise was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. The diagnosis didn’t send me for a loop because I had always sensed her quirky nature was a bit atypical. Even as a newborn, she was sensitive to the world around her. She refused to drink from certain bottles. She preferred pre-made, expensive formula, and she would only eat while being held a certain way. Eloise struggled with sleeping and wasn’t much of a cuddly infant. Sounds sent her into panic even at an early age, and she always avoided certain textures. As Eloise grows older, I find my role as a parent much more difficult. Learning to find that loving mother-daughter bond is hard, and I find us butting heads more than anything. I hate using the label “sensory kid” because her diagnosis doesn’t define her. But as I watch my relationship quickly develop with her sister, my heart grows heavy for Eloise. It’s coming to my realization that although her diagnosis doesn’t define her, it does mean there’s a need for more effort into maintaining a healthy, balanced mother-daughter relationship.
If you’re a mom of a “sensory kid,” you fully understand my struggles. Eloise is particular and demanding. Her life has to flow in a certain context or it brings her severe anxiety. She likes to be in control, and she refuses to adapt to the world around her. A string in her socks could send her into a full blown meltdown. Having the wrong type of sauce on her hamburger could make her upset. The dog barking or an airplane flying overhead could make her cry. Right?
Meltdown. Let’s pause to discuss the definition of a meltdown. Sometimes when I discuss this action with other parents, they look at me like my child is a spoiled brat. But I assure you, she’s not. Children whom struggle with a multitude of sensory related issues experience meltdowns. This doesn’t mean my child is throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get a toy at the store. This doesn’t mean my child is acting out because I made her clean her own room. This doesn’t mean my child is refusing to participate in everyday activities because she does whatever the fuck she wants. Sensory kids that have meltdowns are experiencing a physical or mental reaction to the world around them. They are having a meltdown to cope with the actual pain they are experiencing internally. They are melting down to survive.
Eloise tends to have meltdowns when she’s overstimulated. As a sensory avoider, Eloise does not like certain textures, loud noises, physical touch, etc. My sister has 4 children ranging from age 9 to 2. She, too, has a child with sensory processing disorder, but unlike Eloise, he is a sensory seeker. Aidan loves loud noises, seeks challenges, loves to run, bounce, and be loud. Aidan has one volume. Loud. Throw in 3 other children and my sister’s house tends to be rambunctious. It’s loud. It’s noisy. It’s chaotic. Eloise easily becomes overstimulated at my sister’s home and has a harder time adapting to that world. She tends to scream and cry more instead of learning ways to solve problems with her peers. Eloise has many more meltdowns in this type of environment. But that doesn’t mean she’s being a brat. It means she’s surviving.
Saying that Eloise struggles with the world around her doesn’t mean I give into her every need. I encourage her to adapt, and she continues to attend play therapy on a weekly basis to manage the anxiety she endures; but, keep in mind, she’s 3 years old. Throw in the typical challenges of a “threeanger” and bam! Recipe for disaster.
Most nights I lay in bed and have this overwhelming feeling of guilt in how differently I treat each of my children. My youngest, Alaina, is such an easy kid. She sleeps well. She eats well. She loves to snuggle. She’s flexible and easy going. It’s easy to find that bond; in fact, Alaina encourages the bond between us. Alaina is always seeking out the positive attention and making sure we spend quality one-on-one time together.
For Eloise, life is much different. Eloise seeks negative attention. She doesn’t like to be hugged, snuggled, or kissed. She doesn’t like to play certain games or sit in my lap to read books. She’s independent, free spirited. She’s my wild child. When we are spending quality time together, she likes to be in control. At any moment, the wrong thing could set her off. It’s more difficult to bond with her due to these quirky qualities. But as I lay in bed, heart filled with guilt, I’m slowly learning ways to pamper that bond.
Ways to encourage a bond between you & your child
- Set aside special time each day to spend time together: For Eloise and me, we take naps together every single day. We utilize the wind down time in bed to take about the morning and what we expect from the afternoon. We use the time to learn about one another. Eloise is usually more apt to snuggle when she’s sleepy, so this is the time I encourage that physical touch. We lay in my bed and enjoy each other’s company while we prepare our bodies to take on the rest of the day.
- Take time for your own self care: Being a mom of a child with special needs means you are on your “A game” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no down time. There is no time to breathe. Some days it’s similar to walking on eggshells. Be sure to take time for yourself and walk away when you’ve had too much. Your own self care is incredibly important in caring for your littles. There’s no way you’ll quite possibly be able to provide for your children if you can’t provide for yourself. Giving yourself those much needed breaks is imperative to refuel your body and your own mental health.
- Breathe, breathe, breathe: I’ve had those moments when I’m ready to slam my head into a wall. Those moments where I just feel like I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be screamed at anymore. When Eloise is sick or hurting, it seems to be exacerbated. During those moments, I lock myself in the bathroom for a few moments and take a few deep breaths. I continually remind myself that this isn’t who she is; this is what has happened to her. She’s dealing with these issues much worse than I am, and I must remind myself that my job is to not only help myself cope, but to help her, too.
- Remind yourself of the good: Although my child is high needs, she has so much more to give to the world than a typical child. Eloise is kind. She’s caring and loving. She’s helpful and incredibly polite. Eloise is smart. No, Eloise is a fucking genius. She’s hilarious and full of joy. Sometimes, during a meltdown, I crack a joke.. and we laugh together. Laughter brings us together. Continually reminding myself that Eloise is not what happened to her… that she has so much more to add to my world… this is what helps bring us together.
- Find a common ground: I am a huge yoga lover. I love all things yoga. When it brought an interest to Eloise, I ran with it. Eloise has also grown a love for yoga. She thoroughly enjoys learning various poses and cues my breaths. When her interest aroused, I immediately took the opportunity to use it as a bonding experience. We take time each night to practice together, and I’m finding that we are both learning from one another. Yoga is also an amazing practice for my child. It encourages her to be more self aware and to listen to what her body is telling her. Eloise has used strictly breathing in yoga to learn ways to manage her anxieties.
Being a mom of a child with specials needs means my life is much different than others surrounding me. It means sometimes I’ll be judged. It means sometimes I’ll be looked at differently. It means sometimes I’ll be given unsolicited advice. It also means that my child will be judged, made fun of, and mocked. It means my child will be labeled as difficult. It means that my child will be treated as though she just needs to “get over it.” Being a mom of a sensory kid means our life is much different than yours. It means my life is much different than yours. It means my job as a mom comes with difficult tasks and sometimes the simplest things, like bonding with my baby, takes a valiant effort. But… I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.