If we are friends on my personal Facebook profile then you may have noticed I've been posting some very personal things lately. This particular personal struggle has been overwhelming, life changing, emotionally & physically exhausting, confusing, isolating, amazing, you name it. I'm talking about Sensory Processing Disorder, which my son and I both have.
In a nutshell, a very LITTLE nutshell, sensory processing disorder is a neurological condition that affects how a person reacts to stimuli. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches will send our body into fight or flight mode. ALL. DAY. You can imagine how exhausting it can be with adrenaline constantly coursing through our bodies telling us that the ceiling fan, traffic noise, dishwasher, sock seams, shirt tags, etc. are too much to handle and we need to ESCAPE. NOW. or fight back with our words, our attitudes, our bodies.
There wasn't a name for this, really, when I was growing up. The symptoms of SPD can mirror those of Autism and ADHD, and I didn't exhibit obvious behaviors associated with autism and ADHD. How does a child explain or even know that what they're feeling isn't normal, or that they should be given specific tools to deal with a variety of situations? So, I taught myself and never talked about it. This is how I deal with it: I don't wear socks, EVER. I don't spend a lot of time around crowds. I disappear to my room when I can't handle noises. I text instead of call. I leave the mall, grocery store, or restaurant when I'm overwhelmed. Hearing someone chew is my personal hell - sometimes the movie theater can be, too. A lot of times my senses trigger fight mode to the point where rage builds up and I explode. I'm only human, after all.
Luckily, when Grayson started exhibiting signs of SPD I was on it. We consulted several doctors and now he is seeing an occupational therapist and making great strides in a Montessori preschool. The structured environment works well for him. Every day is a constant struggle. Not only is Grayson very energetic, but he is compulsively inquisitive, curious, and unintentionally aggressive with others. Everyone always says, "He LOOKS normal. You would never know something is wrong with him." Or the classic, "He's ALL boy, idn't he?"
How do I put this? Nothing is "wrong" with my son. We are dealing with a different set of challenges than you. Which is why I hate the special needs label he has acquired. Putting a label on Grayson entitles other people to treat him differently, to judge him, to see him as flawed and damaged, to expect less of him, to exclude him from mainstream society, to pity him, and to categorize him as a nuisance. How do I know this to be true? We have already experienced it first hand. And thus, I have written an open letter to the women who surrounded my son and I at the playground last week.
To the Mob Mentality Mamas at the playground:
I'm sure it was easy for you to misjudge the situation. One minute your children were playing happily on the jungle gym, and the next they were running to you with tears on their cheeks. They tell you through hiccuping sobs that a little boy hit them. "Who?" you demand, standing up to find the culprit. Up until that moment you had been chatting with your friend and staring at your phone, allowing your 18 month old to navigate the massive playground alone.
"That boy! In the plaid shirt!" Immediately scanning the playground, you don't see another mom, except for the one bent over a stroller, trying to strap in an acrobatic toddler who clearly would rather still be running around.
An older woman steps in, the weight of God-like judgement burdening her. "PLAID SHIRT! WHO DOES THAT KID BELONG TO?!" She repeats it several times until the mom at the stroller stands up, dazed and confused. She had literally just walked away from her son to put her daughter in the stroller. A mere minute, and now chaos was unfolding.
Sound dramatic? It was. After I was beckoned by the older woman, Grayson came out of the play area saying that the moms had told him he didn't belong. He came over to me, confused, clearly knowing he had done something wrong, but not understanding the situation. I was a bit confused myself. Grayson is sensory seeking, meaning that his neurological system needs deep input or pressure to stabilize. Sometimes he will bump into things or people to get the input he needs. Rarely does he push or shove to get that input, especially without provocation. The way he reacts to being overwhelmed can come across as misbehavior to those that don't know him, and don't know SPD. Believe me, he DOES know right from wrong.
We walked over to the children, who had been lined up in a row. The parents began to surround us. Really! They literally formed a circle around us, including the older woman and her friend who said, "We don't have any children involved in this." (Ummm, ok? Then why ARE you involved?) I could read anger and judgement on their faces, their arms were crossed, their body language was actually pretty menacing. I imagined tiny pitchforks in their non iPhone holding hands. It felt like West Side Story without song and dance to break the tension. Breathing deep and trying to calm my fluttering heart, I had Grayson speak to each child, apologizing and asking if they were ok. They each nodded, tears already dry. They were eager to return to playing and ran off immediately. The parents remained, staring at me.
I gathered Grayson up and said, "My son has Sensory Processing Disorder, and we are working on the social aspect." As much as I hated to say it, it worked. Their faces immediately softened, they actually took a step back, and then muttered an "It's ok" before walking away.
Of course I was MORTIFIED and Grayson had a meltdown as we left. He wanted some cinnamon pretzels, a request that was clearly denied. I wanted to dig a hole and hide. And then came the flood of retorts, the imagined things I would say and do given a second chance, all of which I cannot repeat.
I stick by how I handled it. My friend was there and watched the whole thing unfold. She could not believe what had happened. If Grayson was indeed "normal", then pushing is still developmentally appropriate for his age. What child hasn't acted out? What behavior exactly would justify closing in on a mom and her 4 year old son at the playground?
I will tell you this, mob mentality mamas. I'm glad you were there. I am glad you learned there may be a reason to stop before judging a child or mother. Or that this open letter reaches to hearts that need it. Thank you for teaching me that I can handle situations like this - that we will survive, and hopefully educate others about a disorder that can't be seen on the face or body of a child.
The Hot Mama & her son <3
For more information on SPD: http://www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder/