Posted in family life

dance to the music no one else can hear

So now, having just explained in great detail why I think special ed preschool could be a great help for Rondel despite my misgivings about the public school system in general, I am going to argue the other side against myself. Hopefully writing this out will help me make a decision! And if not, hopefully it is helpful or interesting to someone else in a similar spot.

First, you should know this about Rondel.

When my son is in a highly stimulating, fun, chaotic environment, his energy ratchets up so high that he can’t always control it. Simultaneously, especially if he is hungry or tired (or if another kid is pushing his buttons), his anxiety often escalates as well. Either of these things could be a struggle independently, but when combined they can make situations very difficult for him. His body feels out of control, his emotions feel out of control, and his external environment feels out his control. In response to that, he will often take actions that on the surface appear irrational or bizarre: he may get overly aggressive in his play, wrestling after his friends have asked him to stop; he may try to run away to escape the chaos; or he may break down into incoherent tears.

Birthday parties, amusement parks, playgrounds, noisy restaurants, music class, movie theaters, and other noisy places can all cause sensory overload and meltdowns. Vigorous physical play may be avoided because of concerns about falling, sensory overload, and the potential for explosive outbursts and aggressive behaviors due to fight-or-flight reactions. Perhaps most unfortunately, the kinds of things done by the teachers who work hardest to make their classrooms fun for most kids – busy, colorful places with lots of “activity stations,” fun music, dancing, games – may be precisely the things that aggravate kids with SPD. As a result, these teachers may find that the harder they work to make class enjoyable and to involve these kids, the more they shut down or overload. It’s hard to imagine a more potent recipe for frustration and misunderstanding on both sides.

Brock Eide, The Mislabeled Child

Second, you should know this about me.

One of the greatest struggles in my life – a struggle that I have heard countless times in the lives of my friends and family as well – is feeling that I don’t belong: that there is no group of people among whom I can be completely myself and at the same time completely loved. It is out of this struggle that my parenting philosophy was born. My goal as a mother is to give my children a relationship (and ideally a whole family community) in which they will be listened to, understood, and unconditionally loved. Whatever societal forces are pressuring them to fit into a certain mold or to act a certain way, I want our home to be the safe place in which those forces have no power.

Now, I also have hopes and expectations for my children. I want them to be thinkers and readers; I want them to be wise and compassionate; I want them to love deeply and speak kindly. But even the wisest person has moments of foolishness; even the kindest person has words they regret. In those moments, I want my children to know that my love will not cease or waver, that I will always love them for who they are even as I help them grow and mature. And I want them to know that the rate of their growth is never a cause for shame, regardless of how slowly they may be progressing. The direction and the effort are the things that matter.

With both of those things in mind, putting Rondel in a special preschool designed solely to help him acquire certain skills by a certain deadline seems antithetical to my whole concept of parenthood. He is not a flowering bush that I can freely manipulate by well-timed applications of different fertilizers or hormones; he is his own person, uniquely designed and gifted, with his own path and timeline to follow. It is helpful for me to know the ways in which he is different than “normal,” so that I can anticipate his struggles instead of setting him up for failure, learn how to help him through difficult situations instead of flailing about in the dark, and access the accommodations he needs to thrive – but it isn’t helpful to focus on those differences as things that are “wrong” with him and try to fix them or train them out of him.

And my fear is that he will think just that: that we believe his way of being is inadequate or wrong, that we don’t accept him as who he is, and that we are willing to put him in an environment that stresses his sensory and emotional systems to the point of overload in an attempt to change him into someone else. It’s hard to think of a better way to demolish a child’s confidence in himself or to damage his trust in his parents’s love and understanding. When the music plays that only Rondel can hear, I want him to dance to that beat with freedom and fullness, holding nothing back in his pursuit of the calling for which God has designed him, no matter how strange or awkward that dance may appear to those who are deaf to the song. Speech therapy we can get at a private clinic, without needing to compromise our ideals in the process; the other skills he needs for life will grow in time, as he learns their value, in the context of love and peace and belonging.










Posted in family life

rondel and the wearable chewies

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you probably remember than Rondel has some sensory sensitivities – nothing extreme, but he does tend to want something to lick/chew when he gets anxious, tired, or overwhelmed, and for some time he had just been licking his hands. We were trying to help him get over that habit, for sanitary and social reasons, when I realized that it might be more helpful to give him something to fidget with instead of simply trying to make him stop fidgeting in general. I had noticed that he liked to fidget orally with wooden toys (like unfinished wood blocks) much more than with plastic toys, so I set out to find a wearable wooden fidget for a reasonable price.

This was much harder than I had anticipated.

While there is a large market for wearable chewies/fidgets, the majority are made of food-grade silicone, which I already knew Rondel wouldn’t like enough to use instead of his hands. I looked through site after site until I finally stumbled upon BiteMeBeads, an Etsy store where I could purchase unfinished wood pendants in various shapes, as well as strings and clasps to make my own necklaces out of them. I got two of the silicone pendants just in case (at the very least they’ll be good teethers for the new baby) and two of the wood, and waited anxiously for their arrival.

Well, it has been over a month now and I’m happy to report that the wearable chewies (as Rondel calls them) have been a huge success! Unlike a toy, Rondel can keep this with him while still having both hands free, and it’s less likely to be set down and lost; unlike his hands, they won’t get chapped in the winter, garner him negative attention, or be as likely to spread germs. And for the most part, he has stopped licking his hands and chews on the pendant instead (the fish-shaped one is his favorite). He even told me a couple Sundays ago that one of the girls in his class had told him she liked his fishy chewy – he was pretty happy about that 🙂

So – if anyone has a similar situation with their preschooler, that is my whole-hearted recommendation! Obviously the oral fidgeting was helping him cope with his sensory input or emotional state, and this was a way to adjust that coping strategy to fit a wider range of situations.

Posted in family life

Preschool aggression

On the way home from church on Sunday Rondel very seriously let me know that he needed to talk to me about something that happened; having had such talks after Sunday School in the past with him, when I could tell something was bothering him, I expected it to be a story of some social altercation that didn’t end up going well, and I was right.

First of all, he told me that another boy had kicked him.

“What happened right before he kicked you?” I asked.

“I kicked him!” he announced.

Cue head shake. Of course a preschooler is going to kick you after you kick him!

After some more probing we unearthed that the other boy had gotten close to Rondel while he was playing, and Rondel didn’t want him to be there and so kicked him to make him move. Ok, fairly typical of a 3-year-old, but not ideal. I wish one of the leaders could help guide him through those situations instead of letting his insecurity and overstimulation get the better of him and turn all his social interactions sour 😦 I just don’t know whether to laugh because it’s normal behavior, or worry about his aggression and his potential to make friends!

Posted in family life

learning to surf your emotional waves

Rondel is a little boy with huge emotions (he takes after me in that way…). Seeing Limerick moving towards or touching one of “his” toys (meaning, any that he has used in the last week or so or assigned a personality to, especially a car) can send him into instant motion, screaming and pulling Limerick away. Not having the right tool on hand to accomplish something – like his preferred type of towel for wiping his eyes or nose – or one of us not being able to do something he wants us to do, like reach a toy from the backseat while driving or pull a random object out of a place where it is stuck, can render him completely mentally immobilized, unable to proceed, to let go, or to accept another option. And he tends to express that feeling of being helpless and stuck by yelling rather forcefully at whoever is near and trying to help…

There is the flip side of his silliness, his excitement over everyday joys (he literally ran around the room in circles glowing when he saw my brother the other day), his overflowing affection for the people he loves, and the happy stories he creates – but none of that negates the fact that he’ll need to learn how to cope with and appropriately express his more negative emotions as he grows.

One thing that’s been helping him lately is to remove him from the situation (which he hates) and sit with him until the worst of the emotion passes by, and then talk about what happened, what ideas we can try next time, and what we can do to amend or move on right then. So in the instances with Limerick, we’ll discuss what exactly made Rondel upset, and I’ll try to get him to come up with different ways he could approach the situation (like asking Limerick nicely to play with a different toy, or to let Rondel have a turn, or offering him something else in trade) and suggest some if he can’t think of any, and then I’ll let him know what I would like him to do to make things right with Limerick (usually saying sorry). As we have done this more, I’ve seen Rondel attempting to implement those ideas in the moment, and I’ve seen his understanding of the concept of an apology grow. I know a lot of people argue that you shouldn’t make a child say sorry – but I want him to learn and practice the habits of courteous behavior, and one of the most important of those behaviors is apologizing. It also gives him something he can do to fill the breach made by screaming and hitting and angry feelings, and that is empowering.

However, I’ve been thinking it would be nice to have an alternative option for times when I can’t take him away for one-on-one time! I can’t always leave what I’m doing, or leave Limerick, and it is hard for him to just be sent away on his own. So I’m thinking of making a “calm-down corner” for him to go to (either on my direction or of his own choosing) when he is feeling angry, exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, sad, or just in need of some space and quiet time. One of my coworkers recently gifted us a massive pillow puppy that I am planning to put there, under a little hanging canopy to clearly set the space aside from the rest of the boys’ bedroom. Then there will be a small basket of toys that are just for the calm-down space: exercise balls to squeeze, bottles with water and glitter or other objects in them that can be shaken, a few soft toys to hug, and maybe a book or two. I talked with Rondel about the idea and he thought it was a good one – so we’ll see how it goes! I’m hoping to start making the canopy and toy basket this afternoon after work.

What are some of your techniques for helping your intense children learn to manage their emotions? I want to give him as many tools as I possibly can, so he’s able to stay on top of those waves instead of letting them pull him under the water.