One of the most prevalent and recognizable behaviors associated with SPD is the meltdown…that fast and furious, kicking and screaming, over-response to environmental stimuli. Throughout my daughter’s early years these meltdowns ruled our world. They governed where we went and for how long. They disrupted even the most carefully laid plans. They interrupted her progress and participation in nursery school. They caused others to misjudge her. Once my daughter got to preschool, it seemed the meltdowns disappeared. Other behaviors, like hyperactivity and impulsivity, replaced them but these full throttle meltdowns became very few and far between. They only surfaced in extremely overwhelming situations and whatever it was that had taken their place was much easier for me to manage.
I was so happy to be over the meltdown stage. Meltdowns were embarrassing and exhausting. They were hard to recover from (for her and for me!). Seeing my daughter meltdown would break my heart. I’d feel guilty that I didn’t have the power to stop them or that I had put her in whatever situation it was that caused them. I wished meltdowns away. So, naturally, when they seemed to dwindle, I was overjoyed. I would beam with pride when I told others that meltdowns were a thing of the past. Astonished, people would always asked how we managed to pass the meltdown stage. I would credit my daughter’s increased tolerance. I would credit all the therapies she received. I would even credit myself for becoming more aware of her sensory needs and how to implement activities to keep the meltdowns at bay. I felt like super mom. I would pat myself on the back and preach to others how they, too, could work hard to achieve a meltdown free life.
Recently, however, I have witnessed some things going on with my daughter that has knocked me off that meltdown free throne I’ve been sitting upon. Over the past few weeks I have been lazy with the sensory input at home. I am shuffling two kids to extra curricular activities. I am in the throes of the Terrible Twos with my non-sensory toddler. We have had our weekends packed with parties and other events. I am exhausted so I have slipped a bit. Overall, my daughter seems “fine” so it falsely leads me to believe that her sensory diet can go on hiatus. Sure, she may be a bit more hyper, but she isn’t melting down so no big thing, right!? But, lately, there has been a lot of crying in my house which I easily chalked up to typical six year old drama. When this crying occurs, I try to ignore it but it doesn’t stop. I try to minimize it, but it only makes it worse. “Don’t engage the drama” I repeat to myself over and over, “it’s just a phase..a typical girl phase.” I keep convincing myself this is nothing yet I am so bothered by it. Because, once I stop to really notice, this crying is not just your typical cry. These spells come fast and furious, instant tears over the smallest thing…a fall on a soft carpet, a bump into a plastic table. The tears are fierce and she screams at this unbearably high pitch. Within minutes she is red and gagging over something that would go unnoticed by most kids. When like this, it is impossible to calm her, speak to her, or rationalize with her. She is simply lost until the storm drifts past on its own. And it wasn’t until yesterday, after a small toy was dropped on her head by her younger sister, that it hit me. THIS is a meltdown. Not the kicking, screaming meltdowns of her toddler and preschool years. Not the meltdowns that happen immediately after being introduced to something overstimulating but, a meltdown, nonetheless. It has changed form, matured and occurs far less frequently than it used to. It doesn’t happen in school, but almost always happens at some point after. It happens when she gets out of the bath because, even in a steamy bathroom, she is “too cold.” It happens when her little sister grabs something out of her hand. It happens when she bumps herself in even the slightest way. And there I sit, eyes rolling and tisking, chalking it up to the dramatic antics of a typical six year old girl…except it isn’t. Rather, this is a meltdown of a six year old girl with SPD. Sure, they look a bit different and happen under different circumstances but, when you dissect the behavior, and look at the factors surrounding it, the cause is clear. She is done, she has had it, she has reached her breaking point. Now that she is older she can tolerate more and reign her reactions in for longer but eventually she will break. Especially if she isn’t getting the input she needs to balance herself out. It just takes her longer to get there. And in times when I am lax with the input she gets at home, these crying fits happen more often.
So..the lesson here is that meltdowns never go away, just like SPD never goes away. As a person with SPD grows and matures, so will the behaviors. Some behaviors will change due to the natural maturity of the nervous system. However, thinking that her system will simply catch up is a pipe dream. She will always need extra support and, as she is only still a child, it is my job to make sure it is provided for her. As she gets older she can learn ways to satisfy her own needs..she has found some things already that she he can provide for herself on her own. But I have to try to remember that as self aware as she is and as mature as she seems to be, she is still a little girl who needs her mother to help her manage this extra set of needs that didn’t come with an instruction manual. And, lately, I have let things prevent me from doing the sensory things she needs me to do. As a parent I would never get lazy with providing my children with the tools and care to satisfy their basic needs. And, as a sensory parent, I have to realize that I cannot get lazy with providing my sensory child the things to satisfy her sensory needs.
As much as I have learned about SPD and my daughter, I am still far from an expert. I can dish out advice and offer people support but that doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. Sometimes I feel I am getting it wrong more than I am getting it right. I am hard on myself and I don’t always practice what I preach. However I am also self aware. I know my strengths but I also know the areas where I need to work harder. But, one day when I can really talk to my daughter about this journey we go on, I want her to know one thing. I tried my best. If I didn’t have the answer, I went looking for one. When I made a mistake it drove me to do better the next time. And, everything I have done and will continue to do is because of how much I love her. So, this post is my confession..and my promise to do better. And in writing this I hope it helps other parents realize that behaviors and needs grow and change but SPD always remains.