Star of the Show

The moment I discovered I was going to have a daughter, I couldn’t wait to dress her in ballet slippers and a tutu and send her off to dance class. The moment she turned two I did just that. However, the experience wasn’t as blissful as I had imagined. Why? Because my daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder (something that, at this young age, I hadn’t fully discovered). She started dance and the first teacher she had noticed she wouldn’t participate and would physically prompt her to shuffle her feet and shake her hips. Eventually she would explode into hysterics and run around the room. I now realize that she wasn’t participating because she was unable to process the various stimuli coming at her such as the teacher giving directions over music playing while tap shoes pounded on the floor. The physical prompting alarmed her as she has tactile sensitivities and doesn’t respond well to being touched if she isn’t prepared for it. While I had asked the teacher to give my daughter some time to get comfortable, she found her to be taking too much time away from the other students so we decided to part ways. But my little girl loved to dance at home and I thought I would give it another try.  I found a Mommy and Me dance class and I thought that maybe having me there would make her more comfortable. The first day of class the teacher introduced tumbling and one somersault sent my daughter over the edge. The next couple of classes, despite telling her she didn’t have to tumble, she just screamed. I know now that part of my daughter’s SPD makes it difficult for her to process her feet leaving the floor but at the time I had no clue. I apologized to the teacher for my daughter’s behavior and she nicely suggested that maybe I should wait until she was a little older as she didn’t seem ready for dance class. Feeling embarrassed, I parted ways with dancing school number two and swore off dancing for my little girl.

A few months later, a friend of mine told me that she was signing her daughter up for a summer dance class. She knew all about our previous experiences but had only mentioned it to me as she heard great things about the teacher and thought she may be a good fit for my daughter. Reluctantly, I decided to give dance one last try. It was only a five week session so, if it didn’t work out, it was only a short commitment. We were met by a smiling and enthusiastic teacher. My daughter went in willingly and participated. However, as soon as she was dismissed she broke into hysterics in the lobby. When we got home I told her she didn’t have to go back but surprisingly she said she wanted to. So, we continued with dance. Each week she would meltdown as soon as class was over yet each week she would go back. I would peek in the dance room from time to time and see her participating happily. It was hard for me to understand why she would scream and cry immediately after something I watched her enjoy. And I realize now that this was the first time I had witnessed my daughter using all her strength and energy to combat her sensory processing difficulties. She had found something she enjoyed and a teacher who never questioned her behavior or forced her to do something she wasn’t comfortable doing. And, in that kind of supportive environment, she succeeded and she felt confident. The meltdowns after class were her release.

My daughter continued with dance that following year and she loved it. Yet, the entire year she melted down after class. As the recital grew nearer, I started to panic. Holding herself together for a 45 minute class was one thing but a recital was a whole different, overstimulating event. The music, the lights, the costumes…all things my daughter would have trouble with. During this time, I had found out that my daughter’s struggles were due to Sensory Processing Disorder and I was starting to research and educate myself. I shared my daughter’s issues with her teacher and she said she would continue to do anything she could to make my daughter feel comfortable. It was the first time my daughter wasn’t judged for her behavior. When recital day came, I sat through the show with a knot in my stomach. I had my daughter on my lap and I could feel her tension as she sat through it. When it was time to bring her backstage for her performance I kissed her, sent her off and held my breath. Suddenly she was on the stage and, while she seemed a bit unsure of herself, she got through it. She not only got through it but she danced…she overcame. By the time she took the stage for the finale she became a little more overwhelmed and, as I watched all the dancers waving to their families as the audience cheered, I noticed my little dancer trying to weave her way off stage with her arms out as if to say, “Come and get me, I’ve had enough.” But before she could go any further the show was over. Unsure of how she felt about the experience, I asked my daughter if she wanted to go back to dance and her answer was yes. So we signed her up again.

My daughter has been in dance ever since and, as each class passes, she grows more confident and more tolerable of all the stimuli that come with the territory. By the summer after her first recital, the meltdowns after class had stopped. During her second recital, she reacted to a spotlight on stage by covering her eyes, but as soon as that music came on she tapped her heart out with a giant smile. After the show, she collapsed in my husband’s arms and cried…releasing all the tension of being overstimulated and the exhaustion of reigning supreme over her sensory overload. And just as I had the year before, I asked her once again if she wanted to go back to dance. The answer was an excited, “Yes!” So she continued on.  Just yesterday she participated in her third recital. It was a tough day for her. We had worked through her refusal to wear her itchy costume by lining it with a cotton undershirt so it wouldn’t rub against her skin. Thankfully, it worked. At the show, she was again sitting with us in the audience and I could immediately see she was uncomfortable. What really put things into perspective was  that my 13 month old was completely unphased by the bright lights and loud sounds. The baby was actually enjoying the show, dancing in her seat and clapping her hands while her older sister was next to her, clearly suffering. And it’s moments like that when I am reminded of just how real my older daughter’s issues are. At one point she expressed that she needed a break. I was so proud of her for being able to verbalize what she needed as opposed to just falling apart.  Knowing more about what soothes her, I had come to the show ready with a pack of gum for her to chew and a bear for her to squeeze. But at that moment, even with all these provisions, she just needed to get away. When I found her in the lobby with my husband she said that she wanted to go home. She didn’t want to dance. We sat there for a moment until she decided she would go back into the theater and watch one more dance. So I took her in and, squeezing her bear and chewing her gum, she watched the one dance. I told her there were a few more dances left until she had to head backstage but I told her we could go back in the lobby and wait. Instead, she watched each dance, counting down in the program how many were left until it was her turn. When it was time for her to go, she walked cautiously out of the theater. The second she saw her friends from class, something about her changed. Her body relaxed and she smiled and ran off to meet them without giving me a chance to wish her luck or give her a kiss. And on that stage she shined! When I picked her up after the show this time, there were no tears. Just a huge smile and, as she jumped off the stage into my arms, she screamed, “I did it! I actually did it.”

It is moments like these that I find parenting a child with SPD the toughest. When is the right time to encourage your child to try something they cannot tolerate and when should you just walk away? On one hand I see that sometimes she needs a little push because the only way she will ever learn to tolerate these situations is through exposure. However, as a parent all you want to do is shelter your child from anything that harms them. And, in my daughter’s case, it is these everyday sensations that harm her. Sure, some of us may not like the loud music and bright lights we experience while watching a show. But we get through it and we enjoy it, no harm done. For her, the experience is completely different. It consumes her and, the more stimuli thrown at her, the more difficult it is for her to process. And although I know that she has to be exposed to these situations it still breaks my heart when I encourage her to try and she breaks down. But I am slowly starting to realize that each time I push a little she tolerates something a little longer and a little more appropriately. I also fail to remember all the times, like yesterday, when I push her and she succeeds. Those are the moments that build her confidence and those are the moments that make taking the risk worth it. I realize that SPD is a condition that will never go away and it is something that the world can’t make accommodations for. So, I have to start teaching her how to adjust to the world around her instead of trying to shield her from it.

Every year my daughter receives a medal at her recital to commemorate the end of another year of dance. For us, these medals symbolize her victory over her SPD. Every parent is proud when they see their child succeed. However, for us, there is always a sweeter reward than just watching our daughter be the star of the show for the day. For us, it is a celebration of her overcoming this obstacle that she faces everyday of her life. It is the joy of watching her find something she is so passionate about that she will risk putting herself in a situation she knows is extremely overwhelming to her. And it is the pride of seeing her push herself a little further than she has before and succeeding. Just the other day my daughter told me that she didn’t think she was very brave because she got scared of a lot of things. I told her that the bravest people are the ones who know what is hard for them but try it anyway, even if they know they might not succeed. She was quiet for a moment, and then replied, “So I guess I’m a little brave then.” She couldn’t be more wrong. To me, she is more than a little brave. She is the bravest person I know. And beneath that tutu and ballet slippers, it’s that bravery that I see when she’s up on that stage. And that, in my opinion, is what makes her a star!

Princess For A Day

Last month, while playing on the Ipad, my daughter came across an email I received that was advertising an “Ice Princess Party.” A local spa for girls was hosting this event that included an evening of makeup, dancing, pizza, and most importantly, a chance to spend two hours with Anna and Elsa from the movie “Frozen.” Immediately it was something my daughter knew she had to attend. After all, it was a chance to meet the “REAL ELSA!” This was too good to be true! However, given her track record with anything loud and overstimulating (and what could be more overstimulating than dozens of little girls shrieking to “Let It Go?!?!”) I was unsure about whether or not she would be able to handle this. But I decided to take her lead and get her the ticket.  I have never seen her so excited and I only hoped that the excitement she was feeling about attending the event would override how overstimulating the actual event might be.

For the next month, I couldn’t stop thinking about this Ice Princess Party. Some days I’d be positive and think that there was no way she wouldn’t absolutely enjoy it. Other days I was a nervous wreck thinking about all the other times in the past she has taken the initiative to try something new only to have the experience overcome her. And those times, when she has tried and didn’t succeed, are the most heartbreaking ones for me. The crushing look of disappointment on her face when she tells me she needs to leave somewhere…the way she’ll stand in the doorway someplace watching kids her age enjoy something she knows she should be enjoying….that, to me, is worse than watching her meltdown and completely fall apart. When she has a full blown sensory meltdown, it’s almost like an out of body experience for her. She is not present, she is not in the moment. She is just completely consumed by her overstimulation. By the time the meltdown ends, she is usually removed from the situation that triggered it so it’s hard for her to connect with what happened. So yes, she may remember that bowling caused her to completely fall apart and prevent her from wanting to do it again but, because of how she disconnects during the meltdown, she doesn’t feel a sense of disappointment in herself. However, when she has to consciously remove herself from something, I can see in her face that she feels like a failure. And no matter how many times I can tell her how brave she is or how proud of her I am for trying, she will always disagree. Knowing how important this princess event was for her, I couldn’t help but worry about how disappointed she would be in herself if it wasn’t everything she thought it would be.

 

 

 

So finally the big day arrived. We didn’t talk much about it and I didn’t hype it up. In the past I have tried to talk about how great things are going to be only to realize that doing so puts pressure on her to enjoy something she might not. So the day went on just as it normally would and, when the time came, she got her gown on and off we went. When we arrived there was not a single parking spot left so I had to leave the car running and usher her in quickly so she didn’t miss anything. I finally made it inside just as the music went on and the princesses came out. I held my breath, waiting for the usual but subtle signs of tension and distress. Instead what unfolded before me was pure magic! Out came Anna and Elsa and there was my little princess up on her heels waving to them excitedly. The next two hours were nothing short of perfection and I watched from a distance with tears in my eyes as my daughter enjoyed this party with her favorite princesses just as any little girl her age should. No stress, no worry..only joy! Throughout the night she’d give me a wave or run over to me screaming, “I can’t believe Elsa just did my make up!” She walked the runway, sat on a throne and smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen while she had her picture taken. She danced, she waited on line patiently to get her hair braided to match Elsa. Not a pout, not a protest and not a tear. When it came time for the sing a long, she sang with all her heart and soul. And it was in that moment, as I saw her clutching her microphone and singing “Let It Go” with everything she had in her, that I realized that her positive experiences overwhelm her with the same intensity that the negative experiences do. Being oversensitive doesn’t define her life by preventing her from participating in things we might expect that she should. It does limit her to enjoying fewer things than other kids her age but it makes those few things she does enjoy so much more special. So for every movie we don’t get to see or party we decline there is an experience like last night that leaves a lasting and positive impression on her. Ten years from now she won’t remember that she never went to a party at Chuck E. Cheese or a concert but I can almost guarantee that being a princess for a day is going to be something that she never forgets!

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

When my daughter’s sensory issues first started, I wasn’t able to see her struggles until it became too late..until we got to that meltdown moment where the overload could no longer be tolerated. When this eruption would occur she would simply have to be removed from whatever situation triggered her meltdown. But over the years, as I have learned more about SPD, I have been better able to see that before this breakdown occurs there are tons of signs along the way that warn me that a storm is brewing. I am starting to see what exactly makes her tick and what to do to counteract the overload that is going on inside of her to avoid a complete and total sensory related meltdown. And, as she gets older, I am starting to teach her to read her own sensory signs and to find proper ways to deal with them on her own.

Recently I read an article that explained a common misconception people have about Sensory Processing Disorder. Almost always, people will tell me stories about things their own kids don’t like and how, in time, their child grew out of their intolerance to certain things. And these stories constantly make me question whether or not I am reading too much into what goes on with my daughter. But this article explained that there is a vast difference between sensory “preferences” versus sensory disorder. All people have sensory preferences. I hate bright light and the smell of perfume. However, I have been able to function throughout life when met with these unpleasant sensations…they are just a couple of my many sensory preferences.  My daughter’s situation is completely different. Her sensory processing deficiencies interfere with her daily life. Her overload presents itself in hyperactivity and impulsivity that make it difficult for her to function appropriately in school. She will engage in activities that are unsafe because her body is seeking out sensations to calm her overactive nervous system and this need to find calming input overrides her rational thinking. Her sensitivities to noise prevent her from going to parties or participating in certain social situations that are typical for children her age. When her nervous system is in overdrive, she becomes more emotionally sensitive. She will cry when watching TV or when listening to certain types of music, telling me that what she saw or heard was “just so beautiful.”  And, when she reaches a point of total overload, she will completely and totally fall apart.

The more I learn about sensory processing, the more I understand that almost everything I find my daughter doing serves a purpose for her. Behaviors that I used to be quick to correct I now realize are being done for her own benefit. For example, hanging her head upside down off the couch was a behavior I constantly found myself correcting until recently.  I was reading a daily “sensory tip” that I received from a well respected occupational therapist where she explained the benefits that inverting the head has on the nervous system. She went on to list ways in which you can receive this input and one of the things listed was hanging the head off a couch. In doing so, my daughter is seeking vestibular input, one of the areas of sensory processing where she is deficient. In the last few months I have been making a mental note of every move she makes..the way she hangs all of her body weight from our arms when we are dancing or the way she leans all of her body weight on me when we sit together watching TV. In learning more about what her body needs I have been better able to give her ways to find the input she seeks in a safe and appropriate way. So, when I find her leaning on me I cover her in a heavy blanket and the pressure from the blanket instantly calms her. I have been able to replace her putting things in her mouth by offering her gum or a lollipop. As I become more educated, she becomes more educated and I am starting to hear her ask “Can I crash on some pillows?” instead of jumping on the couch. And yes, all of this takes an extreme amount of time and effort but the end result is a calm and organized child and that is something I never thought I would see.

These days when I see my daughter in an overstimulating environment, I can immediately see the way it is effecting her. She gets quiet, something that is VERY unusual for my extra chatty little girl. She stops moving and a wave of tension washes over her body from the head down. Her face tightens and she tucks in her upper lip. Her eyes become glaze over and she stares off into space. And it is in that moment that I will now offer a break or give her some sort of sensory input to counteract her over stimulation. Sometimes we will discuss what is happening around her to try to make sense of where the noise is coming from as she finds things easier to handle if she is aware of their source. Or sometimes we will say nothing and I will just give her a chance to take some breaths, calm herself down and tell me when she is ready to expose herself to that environment again. Most times she is successful. Other times she is not so fortunate and, despite our combined effort, the environment wins. That happened just the other day when we went bowling, an activity she has done before and enjoyed. We arrived earlier than our friends and while waiting, I saw “the change.” We took a break, discussed what was going on around her, and decided that we would give it a try once our friends arrived. She did great for a while until she played a video game and lost. That minor disappointment was the trigger that tipped the bucket and, within seconds, she was flooded by her sensory overload. She screamed, gagged and bit me. She became lost inside her meltdown and any attempt to reason with her was unheard. Despite my best efforts I could not reach her.  She eventually stopped moments later but I could still see in her face and body  that this meltdown was not over. Sure enough, after another minor disappointment, she began again. This time she screamed at me, “This is all your fault.” My heart broke. We left moments later and she screamed all the way to the car and half the ride home. She cried at home again when we spoke about what happened and then spent the rest of the day quiet and still. While a meltdown may last mere minutes, the physical and emotional toll it takes on her lasts far longer. And I realized in that moment that while I have learned so much about SPD and how it presents itself in my daughter, I am far from an expert.

The tricky thing about SPD is that it is ever changing. Something might bother my daughter one day but not the next. Sometimes her over stimulation might make her emotions run high and other time it will cause her to bounce off the walls. Some days my daughter may feel like taking the chance to overcome a sensory challenge and sometimes she just wants to avoid it altogether. Just when I think I have her figured out, she surprises me. But what remains the same is my determination to understand it as best I can and to educate others to the fact there is more to some children’s behaviors than meets the eye. And what I am most proud of is my daughter’s determination to live life to the fullest as best she can. She is learning to embrace who she is and her confidence is growing. She is happy with who she is…and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

 

Why Labels Matter..And Why They Don’t

Although my daughter’s sensory disorder was evident at birth and any evaluation she has had on her sensory processing skills supported the fact that she has significant difficulty processing information through her senses, there is one thing you need you to know. My daughter is NOT diagnosed as having Sensory Processing Disorder. Yes, I know, when I talk about her I reference her SPD but, before you call me a hypocrite, let me explain myself to you. My daughter does not have a diagnosis of SPD because it is almost impossible to attain. Why? Because Sensory Processing Disorder is not medically recognized as a disorder in and of itself but instead considered to coexist with other disorders..most commonly Autism and ADHD. And while any parent of a sensory child can find this extremely frustrating, I do see the argument as to why it is so difficult to get this disorder recognized. Sensory issues are hard to quantify. They are very abstract and the cause for it is unknown. Studies continue to try and prove that there is a neurological cause but, until there can be concrete evidence in proving this disorder, it remains up for debate. So you can imagine the difficulty I have had as a parent trying to persuade my school district to provide services for my daughter when the cause of her issues has had no label. Not only did she have no “real” disorder but her teachers didn’t believe us either so I at first went up against my district with more data to support why she shouldn’t receive services than why she should…and I won! But, in knowing the system and in seeing that my daughter needed more from the district to be successful in school, I knew that the fight to get her services was going to get increasingly difficult if I didn’t have more to prove to them. So I made the decision to get her a medical evaluation as there was one legitimate disorder for which my daughter met all the criteria. And this is the story of how my daughter was diagnosed ADHD, why I did it, and why I feel that this label has been extremely important and unimportant all at the same time.

So, yes, technically my daughter is diagnosed ADHD. The diagnosis was given one month after her fourth birthday which is typically a bit young to get this diagnosis. However, it was halfway into the school year and my daughter’s emotional issues, rigidity, and hyperactivity/impulsivity were now setting her apart from the rest of the class and requiring more attention from the teachers than they could give. So I had her behavior formally assessed by a psychologist who concluded that the behaviors stemmed from a lack of internal regulation. This is something most commonly found in children with ADHD (this was always followed up by the psychologist saying, “not that I think she has that…BUT…” as it is not her job to diagnose a child but to find the function of her behaviors). However, these behaviors are also commonly found in children with SPD, which I firmly believed was the root of all her struggles. However, the teachers were begging for an extra set of hands in the classroom because they couldn’t control her and had already told me that they didn’t believe this school was right for my daughter for the following year. So, here we were in the second preschool in two years who didn’t know how to handle my child. My options were to: A) Request that the district give her a SEIT to shadow her for the remainder of the school year and then to place her into a special education preschool program in September or B) Pull her out of school because she had become such a disruption and to try to find a THIRD preschool for the next year and hope that they would know how to meet her needs. After speaking with my daughter’s psychologist, whom she had been seeing for a year, I asked her what she thought about exploring an ADHD diagnosis at such a young age. She told me that it is clear that my daughter displayed the symptoms of the disorder and that if the label could help to get her what she needs in school than it was definitely worth exploring. I took her for the evaluation and the results were unanimous. My daughter met all the criteria for an official ADHD diagnosis.

When I was going through this process I was met with a lot of criticism. I heard countless times from others that I should not “label” my daughter. But here’s the funny thing about this “label.” Since getting this diagnosis, there has been a shift in attitude from my school district. While a medical diagnosis does not automatically get your child services, it did legitimize her difficulties to them. Before, I only had my word that she was struggling and some abstract information about her having sensory issues. Now she is a child with a disability. Her behavior hasn’t changed but what we call it has and what we are calling it is something recognized versus something that is not. Since getting this label, my district placed my daughter in an integrated preschool class which was better suited to meet her needs and she has made tremendous progress because she is in the right environment. I wouldn’t have gotten that placement without the diagnosis. Last week, in reevaluating my daughter’s needs as she transitions into kindergarten, the district requested to declassify her and place her in a general education class for September. While she is making progress, this is something I know she isn’t ready for. But then I reminded them of something…that although my daughter is age appropriate in academic skills, she struggles with hyperactivity/impulsivity and emotional behaviors as a result of her having ADHD. Their response to this was that in hearing how well my daughter was doing they “forgot” that she had a medical diagnosis and quickly they reversed their decision. She will remain a special education student in kindergarten under the classification of Other Health Impaired and she will be placed into an integrated kindergarten class. Now, again, this diagnosis didn’t automatically guarantee this decision. In fact, having an ADHD diagnosis does not typically guarantee a child anything educationally unless it interferes with their school performance. But, for some reason, in my district, this label has helped me tremendously in getting services for my daughter that I’m not so sure she would have gotten had she not had this label. And this is really the only reason why this label has been so important to us.

However, to all the naysayers who cautiously warned me NOT to label my child, here are the many reasons why this label is so unimportant to me. My daughter is sweet, kind, caring, and compassionate. She is friendly, she is silly, she is happy. These are the “labels” people see when they look at her. She does not walk around with the letters ADHD pinned to her shirt like the Scarlet Letter. That label is tucked away in a file only to be seen by the people who need to see it. Until now, nobody has known about it this label unless I have told them. I am not ashamed of my daughter’s diagnosis. I am proud of who she is. She excels in spite of the difficulties ADHD presents in her daily life. She is a shining example of how anyone can overcome their difficulties and live a full and happy life despite their challenges. Does having a child with ADHD and SPD make life challenging? Absolutely. But I have yet to meet a parent of any child who thinks parenting is easy. This has always been our life. This has always been our challenge..a challenge I don’t find any more or less difficult than what anybody else has going on with their children, typical or not. She has always had difficulties with certain things and we have adjusted our parenting and our support for her to meet those needs the same way any parent does for their child.

Just last night, my daughter and I were talking and she mentioned that she looked beautiful. So I responded, “Yes, you are beautiful but what’s even more important is that you are beautiful on the inside. Do you know what that means?” And she said, “Yes, it means I am lovely. I am a lovely girl.” And lovely she most certainly is. That is the label she is known for, that is the label that shines through…and it is the only label that matters to me.

The Importance of “Fitting In”

This has been a very special week in my house. My sensational little girl has just celebrated her 5th birthday! In my opinion, the age of five holds a great deal of significance. I feel like it’s the end of the era where I look at this child and consider her a baby. Of course, she will always be MY baby, but in the last year she has grown leaps and bounds in so many ways. Some changes are big..like when I look at her face and see that baby look has gone and the face of a “big kid” is staring back at me. She’s lost that baby roundness to her body and she’s longer and leaner. Her speech has developed and I am starting to miss the cute way she used to mispronounce common words. Some changes are minor, only things a parent would notice about their own child..like the way she turned the hall light on by herself yesterday because she is finally tall enough to reach it. It is also the last year I will have her home with me more than I will have her out of the house. Come September, my sensational little girl goes to kindergarten. No more lunch dates at McDonald’s or afternoon snack time in my bed while we watch cartoons. She will be off to school in the morning, returning in the late afternoon and we will be spending the time we are together doing homework and enjoying some brief family time before we get ready for bed and repeat the same routine the next day.

This is why, in the special education world, they call the age of five the “transition.”  Once your child starts Pre-K districts start to have informational meetings on this transitional period to prepare you for what is to come. Your child will be thoroughly evaluated midway through the school year and, by spring, a meeting will be held to “transition” your child into the school aged population. If special education services are still necessary, your child will be handed over to a new committee who will oversee your child’s services. Otherwise, a child may be declassified which means that they have made enough progress as a preschool child and they will enter kindergarten in a general education setting. And this is where I am currently at..my daughter being evaluated by her teachers and waiting for March 7th when my daughter’s kindergarten fate will be determined.

To best prepare myself for this transition, I made appointments last week to discuss my daughter’s progress with her teachers and therapists. All accounts have her exceeding expectations. She is academically on grade level and beyond. She is social and, most importantly, she is happy. She is needing less support in the classroom and her teacher says that if a stranger were to walk into the classroom they could never point her out as one of the children who were having difficulties. Her other therapists state the same type of progress. Any behavior she exhibits is typical of her age group. She is able to work through her difficulties quickly. She is able to verbalize her frustrations and label her emotions. This is what I have been waiting to hear for the last three years.

And while I can credit the countless hours of counseling and therapies for her progress, there is one fundamental difference between the past and the present that I truly believe is the number one contributing factor to my daughter’s success…her school environment and the patience, respect, and understanding of the support staff who work with her. My daughter has been receiving counseling and occupational therapy since she is three years old. However, even with all of these interventions, she was not successful in school. Part of this had to do with the fact that she was too young and immature to generalize the skills and tools she was practicing in therapy. But, a larger part had to do with the fact that the teachers who were working with her judged her behavior as something she was doing purposely regardless of how many professionals reported that her reactions to things were beyond her control. Also, these same teachers denied any recommendations made by my daughter’s therapists to help her be successful in the classroom. So I pushed to place her in a special education preschool program and today, with a little bit of maturity and hard work on my daughter’s part, school has become a success because her teachers understand her issues and respect her needs. For example, her teacher reported that sometimes, when using the Smart board, my daughter will tell her that it is too loud. What does the teacher do? She lowers the volume, plain and simple. This tiny accommodation isn’t a special education intervention or fancy behavioral tool. It is simple respect and understanding for someone’s needs. As a result, my daughter feels confident and she has trust in the adults surrounding her. She is no longer the child screaming in the classroom for everyone to stare at.  She is in an environment where she fits in and she is respected and understood. The teacher told me that when my daughter would get upset over something earlier in the school year, she pulled herself away. She would immediately start looking around the room to see if everyone was staring at her. She would say things like, “My friends are mad at me” or apologize to the teacher for being bad or sad. This behavior comes from the scars of her past school experiences. At the tender ages of three and four, when screaming in school because she was grappling with feelings that were bigger than she could understand, her teachers ignored her. They left her screaming in the middle of the class. In one instance last year, the teachers started singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry” as my daughter had a meltdown in front of her peers. In her former school settings, she would be forced into situations that she could not tolerate. I was told it was because she had to learn she cannot always get what she wanted. But forcing a child with sensory issues into situations they cannot process is like throwing me into an ocean without a life preserver because I can’t swim. All I need to keep from drowning is to stay in the shallow end of the water and not get pushed too far in over my head. And, as it turns out, so does my daughter.

So, as I move forward in preparation for my daughter’s transition into kindergarten, I am collecting all the data and information from her teachers to decide where she belongs next year. My goal is to simply find her a place where she fits in. Her teacher doesn’t know if she will qualify for a special education placement. But, as I reflect on what it has been that has truly made her successful, I am seeing that there is much more to this transition than making the determination between choosing special education versus general education. Quite honestly, I could push to keep her classified as a special education student and she could end up with a teacher who doesn’t understand her or who is unwilling to meet her needs. Or, on the flip side, she can go into a general education setting with a wonderfully supportive teacher who provides her with the right accommodations to help her succeed. As I learned in a recent meeting, my district supplies a lot of services for students who do not meet the qualifications for special education but still require some additional support. I am in the process of exploring all of my daughter’s options by setting up a meeting with the Chairperson for Preschool Special Education to see what they have to offer for a child with her needs. In the end, I will make a decision based on where I think she will be most successful. A few months back when I was speaking to an administrator at my daughter’s school, she told me that my daughter was doing well because this was a “safe place” for her and now I know exactly what she means. There is no worse feeling than the feeling that you don’t belong. As parents we try to teach our children that they should be proud of who they are. That has been hard for my daughter to understand when being who she was made her the outcast. The idea of “fitting in” is often viewed negatively because it has come to mean that someone must become something they are not in order to belong.

Excuses, Excuses

Not too long ago my daughter was invited to a birthday party. When I told her she was invited to a party she asked, “What kind of party is it?” This is the first question she asks anytime she is invited somewhere. Before she even knows who the party is for, she always needs to know WHAT KIND of party it is. Translation…is it a situation she can tolerate!? Most time she is invited to something she enjoys..bounce houses, princess parties or trips to the farm. This time it was something she knew she couldn’t handle and when I asked her if she wanted to go she told me she did not. And I fully respect that. If I have learned anything in the past five years of being her mother (and I will add that this lesson did not come easy and took many bad decisions on my part) it is that my daughter cannot be pushed into something she cannot tolerate. Doing so will result in complete chaos for her, for me, and for anyone around us who has to witness one of her meltdowns.

Whenever my daughter is invited into a situation that may be too overstimulating for her, I do my best to try and give her enough information to make an informed decision as to whether or not she wants to participate. If it is something she has attempted in the past then obviously she bases her decision on her prior experiences. If it is something new, and she is unsure, I try to explain what the situation might entail as best I could. I pull up a website or a You Tube video of the experience if I can. I explain to her that if she does want to attempt to participate we can always leave if it becomes too much for her. But ultimately I leave the decision in her hands. She knows best what she can handle.

However, each time I find ourselves in a situation where we have to decline an invitation because of my daughter’s sensory issues I get a knot in my stomach because I am faced with this dilemma: do I make up an excuse as to why we cannot go or do I tell the truth..that we are declining the invitation because my daughter has sensory processing issues and the situation is just something she knows she cannot handle. And, selfishly, I hate being in this position. Sometimes I get lucky, as I did in the last case, where we actually have a prior commitment and cannot attend anyway. But, for the most part, I am not that lucky and I tie myself in knots over how to handle responding to an invitation. If I tell the truth, I feel that I am perceived as a coddling, overprotective mother who is sheltering her child. I feel this way because I have been told this at one time or another by people who don’t understand my daughter’s needs. But it’s not even the naysayers that steer me towards making excuses. I am surrounded by many people who mean well yet still make me feel uncomfortable. I can be out with my daughter somewhereand someone may ask, “How come she is ok now?” or “Is this really the same child you are talking about because I’d never tell just by looking at her?!”  And instead of being able to answer their questions confidently, I clam up…never knowing how to respond even if I know the answers. So that is why I sometimes feel it easier just to make up an excuse. However, if I make up an excuse or lie by omission, I feel like a hypocrite. I spend all this time writing about my daughter, telling the world how proud of her I am, and here I am being less than forthcoming about her issues for fear of being judged. Also, in assuming that I will be judged unfavorably, aren’t I the one being judgmental of others?!

I confided in a fellow “sensational mom” about my inner conflict surrounding the last invitation we received and she very wisely told me that I should be telling the truth. She said that the people in my life who are true friends will understand our situation and accept it, even if they don’t fully understand. And that, for the most part, has been true. Not everyone in our world understands Sensory Processing Disorder, but they haven’t judged it either. They ask questions about our situation not because they don’t believe but because they want to understand. They comment on how well adjusted my daughter seems to be because they are amazed by her progress not because they doubt what I tell them about her. The problem isn’t other people but my own insecurities about myself as a parent and a human being. I feel I may be judged because I have judged people unfairly. I feel that others are downplaying my daughter’s issues because I have downplayed her issues in hopes that maybe they weren’t as big a deal as they have been. So what my wise confidant made me realize is that I am really my own worst enemy. My insecurities are self inflicted and, in making excuses for my daughter’s issues, I am taking the easy way out.

Even after this revelation I wish I could promise that, the next time I am in this position, I will tell the truth. But I can’t do that. I’d like to think that I will but I’m just not so sure. I still don’t now if I am confident enough..I don’t know if I am ready. What I can be confident about is that there are more situations my daughter will participate in happily that she couldn’t before. There are less times we have to decline an invitation and more times that, even in a new situation, she will succeed. But instead of beating myself up over how much I have yet to learn, I have to instead  be OK with where I am now. I will get to a point where I feel confident about the decisions that I make for my daughter. I am just not there yet. This doesn’t mean I love my daughter any less or am ashamed of who she is. It’s just evidence that everyone develops at their own pace..and just as my daughter is a work in progress, so am I.

‘Tis The Season To Have A Meltdown

As much as we all look forward to the holidays, the season brings with it a fair share of stress for all of us. Each year it seems as though we have to start preparing earlier and earlier..we barely get past Halloween before the Christmas displays start going up in stores. In some places, I felt like Thanksgiving was bypassed altogether. Last month I had my hands full with two sick kids and my pre-Thanksgiving Christmas shopping had to be postponed. As a result, gifts I needed were already sold out, sending me into a panic. This week, I am stressing over whether or not we will ever get our tree up because we haven’t had a free day to do it. But I love the holidays and, although the preparations keep me up at night with anxiety, the smiles on Christmas day make it worth it in the end!   But when you have a child with sensory issues the holidays bring added anxiety. You must tread very carefully through this holiday season. Everything associated with the holidays bursts with overstimulation….lights, music, crowded family get-togethers. Bells jingling, Santa Ho-Ho-Ho-ing..all of this going on at once is enough to give anybody a headache. So imagine a poor child who struggles with making sense of her senses on a normal day and drop them right in the middle of this holiday hustle and bustle..this holiday season which lasts far longer than just one day. And it is your job, as the parent of an easily overstimulated child, to chart the course through this season carefully and methodically. What makes this task more difficult is that this Christmas season comes hot off the heels of Halloween and Thanksgiving..two other times of year that cause a frenzy for our senses. After itchy costumes and candy binges come loud feasts and a confusing mix of smells of various foods cooking at once. As soon as we recover from one holiday..the next one is right behind it. So here is how we spend the holidays in my house..in the most sensory friendly way.

1) Parades..we don’t do them…at all. Not in person and not even on TV. My daughter has been to a parade, hates them for obvious reasons, and the mere sight of even seeing one on TV sends her running into another room. This year we graduated to being able to leave the Thanksgiving parade on..as long as the sound was turned off.  She still hid in the other room..only appearing when we told her something she liked was on. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is one of my favorite parts of any holiday..but for the sake of sanity in my house I can live without it.

2) Picture with Santa…the thing we probably most look forward to as a parent..that picture of our child sitting happily, or in most cases screaming, is something we treasure for years to come. I’ve tried twice and failed miserably..my child screaming so uncontrollably that even Santa looked annoyed and we had to walk away. You would think he’d be used to that sort of thing, given that most kids find him frightening, but obviously Santa’s had limited experience with a sensory meltdown which makes the screams of an average child sound like a soothing lullaby. We have made progress in the last year due to a little bit of maturity mixed with the knowledge that Santa is the one who brings presents. For that reason alone he is worth getting close to. So last year, my daughter stood next to him and took a picture. She was proud as could be! And so was I!

3) The Annual Town Tree Lighting..another thing we avoid. Lights, carolers, crowds..not for us. I asked this year if it was something she might like to do and she politely said, “No, thank you.” And I completely respect that. What we will do is drive around town pointing out our favorite holiday decorations while listening to Christmas music in the car. The excitement in my daughter’s voice as she shouts, “Hey, look at that…it’s AWESOME!” is one of the best parts of my holiday season and is one of the things I look forward to the most each year.

4) I can guarantee that Christmas Day at my mother’s house will inevitably result in at least one major meltdown..usually when the chaos of four little girls opening gifts in a crowded room becomes too much for my daughter to handle. One of my nieces will get a gift that my daughter did not and that tiny inconsistency will be the tip of the sensory iceberg..sending her into an instantaneous fit. To the average spectator it might look like a spoiled child not getting what she wants. But to us we know that it’s the sign that she has simply had enough.

Having a successful holiday in my house has been and continues to be a work in progress. When I first realized we couldn’t take part in “normal” holiday traditions I was sad and  disappointed. Now, I realize that in the wake of participating in these traditions with the masses, our own  holiday traditions have been born. We may not ever get to Rockefeller Center to see the tree, but we spend a quiet day at home decorating our own tree and building a gingerbread house while Christmas music plays in the background. We bake cookies and pick spots for our favorite ornaments, most of which symbolize a significant moment in the life of our family. It has become a day that I enjoy more than the actual holiday itself. We may not be able to watch movies like the Polar Express or How The Grinch Stole Christmas but we have the books and we will read them in my bed repeatedly all the nights leading up to Christmas. And while it has taken me many Christmases to shift my thinking from what I expected my holidays to be to what they actually are, I have realized now what the holiday season is really about….my family. I am the frazzled, tired mother of two beautiful little girls and my days are  filled with chores, errands, appointments and play dates. My husband works two jobs and has one day off a week so we are without him more than we are with him. And in having to celebrate our holidays on a smaller scale do to my daughter’s sensory issues, we are given the greatest and most important gift the holidays can give us..time together, just the four of us. This is something we don’t have nearly enough of and something I am truly grateful for. So, this year, I look forward to our quiet, holiday traditions that we only share with each other and I hope that they are traditions that will influence the way my girls celebrate the holidays when they have their own families someday.

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and not so stressful holiday and all the best in the New Year. May you be as lucky as I am to have time with the ones that you love.

Where Do We Go From Here

This is the first time since I’ve started to write that I honestly don’t know what to say. Each time I sit at this computer, I know exactly the story I want to tell and, once I get started, it just flows. I write, edit, post….write, edit, post. And each time I feel satisfied enough with the outcome. Today is different. Today is hard. I have a lot to say, I just don’t know how to say it. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me, for my family, and for my little girl.

It started with parent-teacher conferences two weeks ago. For the most part, I walked in feeling hopeful. Up until this point, all reports home have been favorable. While I didn’t expect to hear that all of my daughter’s problems have disappeared the teacher’s report still hit me like a slap to the face. I was told that my daughter has difficulty controlling her emotions and that she is  impulsive, rigid and  intense. She is stubborn and she has trouble in social situations because she wants her own way and gets upset when she doesn’t get it. But the teacher finished this by saying that she is making great progress and for a second I wasn’t sure we were talking about the same kid. All these issues she just laid out in front of me and she calls this progress?! But you see, from the teacher’s point of view, my daughter is making progress. Compared to the reports in her file, my daughter’s behavior has improved over the last year but all I can hear is that she struggles and that makes me sad. I know that, in terms of a school, she is in the best place possible. Yet, this point she is at, where just getting through the school day is still a struggle, is the best she can do right now. I’m afraid that maybe this is the best she will always do and I don’t want that for her.

There is a bigger reason why I am having such a hard time with all of this lately. My daughter’s behavior has been studied, analyzed and evaluated many times in the last year and, no matter where the report comes from, the results are all the same. Her behavior comes from a lack of emotional regulation. She is unable to control herself, plain and simple. Unfortunately for her, this is the hardest type of behavior to change. She is smart, she could tell you all the tools she is supposed to implement when she feels herself getting upset. She just simply cannot do it. Her behavior is a symptom of something bigger..something that is beyond her control. This is why she is so rigid, so fearful of change or the unexpected. She has to deal with something that is beyond her control everyday of her life and that, in and of itself, is stressful for her. All of this and she is only four.

It has been hard enough listening to other people tell me these things about my daughter but something else happened this week that was probably the single most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with as a parent. My daughter’s behavior has been off the charts lately. She has been having several meltdowns a day for seemingly no reason. She has been defiant and oppositional. She has been very difficult to deal with. During one episode, exhausted from not being able to get through to her, she was sent to her room. After a few minutes, my husband went upstairs to go and get her. When he came back he told me that my four year old looked him straight in the eye and said, “Daddy, I know I have to calm down. I just can’t. Everyone always tells me to calm down and to take a deep breath but I just can’t do it. I try and I try and I just can’t control myself.” And these words broke my heart. I have watched her after a meltdown more times than I can count..the shameful look on her face, the repeated apologies for not listening, her eyes darting around the room to see if anyone is staring at her. Seeing these things has been hard for me. But to hear this little girl verbalize her struggles like this was like a kick in the gut. To know she carries this burden and that she is fully aware of it and, even worse, she is ashamed of it, is the toughest thing I have had to accept. The worst part is I don’t know what I can do to help her. I have tried every type of behavioral intervention I have ever learned..reward charts, schedules, positive reinforcement. I have tried to implement as much sensory input into her daily routine as I possibly can. But it isn’t enough.

As soon as I realized that my daughter had sensory and behavioral issues my goal was to never make her feel like there was something wrong with her. I never wanted her difficulties to overshadow all the wonderful things about her. I never wanted it to make her feel alienated. Yet, as she gets older, other kids are starting to notice and pull away and that makes her feel really bad. I tell her every chance I get that I think she is wonderful. My last words to her each night are “You’re a sweet, smart, and beautiful girl..and I love you the most.” However, I still can’t help feeling like I’ve failed her. The problem is, none of the professionals that have worked with her will say that these outbursts, this lack of regulation, stem from her profound sensory issues and I know deep down that this is all related. Sensory Processing Disorder is still not recognized, it cannot be proved. The only proof of her sensory issues that is documented in her file is based on a parent-completed Sensory Profile. So it’s basically my word against doctors, teachers and psychologists who all call it something else or won’t call it anything at all. So now what?!

There is no worse feeling as a parent than feeling powerless to help your child. I know that the last few weeks are a phase, a low point, and that at some point we will get through it. But my fear is that these low points will make more of an impact than the highs. That my sweet little girl will believe the bad over the good. I’m afraid that, unless we get the right help for her, her issues will permanently damage her view of herself. She has already been judged in the past and I see the impact that has had on her. I’m just not sure what to do next.

Usually, by the time I finish writing, I feel some sense of closure. The process is therapeutic for me and by the time I get my story out, I finish with a sense of hope and I end on a positive note. Today, I don’t feel that way. So, I’ll end my thoughts with an example of how wonderful my daughter is. Just last night, she and I were laying on the couch watching Pajanimals. This is our nightly ritual. The exhaustion of the last few weeks kicked in and I started to drift off to sleep. Suddenly, I felt my glasses coming off my face. I opened my eyes and there she was, my sweet girl, folding my glasses and pulling my Uggs off my feet. This is who she is…my sweet, smart, and beautiful girl. This is what I want her to be known for…her compassion, her warmth, her good heart.  This is who I want others to see when they look at her. More importantly, this is who I want her to see as herself.

99 Tokens: A Dose of Reality

As a teacher, one of the biggest issues I had with parents was when I would reach out to them about their child’s struggles only to be dismissed. Sometimes the issues were minor like needing some extra help in a certain subject. Other times I had to broach the difficult subject of getting a child evaluated. But regardless of the issue, big or small, I was almost always met with a rebuttal. I’ve been criticized, yelled at, and argued with by parents. Some even went so far as to complain to my principal. And I never understood why. Your child needs a tutor..big deal!? You don’t want to get your child an evaluation so he/she can get extra support and the right environment to succeed…why not!? And then I’d criticize that parent for being in so much denial that they could not come to grips with the reality of what is best for their child. So, when I finally learned that I was going to become a parent I made the promise that no matter what obstacles my child would face I would NEVER be in denial. When I realized that my daughter was struggling, I began my crusade against my school district like a proud general wearing my cause on my sleeve. I did my research, I went to parent training, I began to share our stories. And it wasn’t until a few months ago that a big dose of my own denial smacked me right in the face and brought me down off the high horse I put myself on.

In reflecting on how I came to terms with my own denial, I notice that there were warning signs all along the way. Like the time that preschool director told me my daughter was just a spoiled, only child. Yes, I did get her evaluated anyway and eventually pulled her out of the school but what I never confessed was that I only pulled her out a month before school started. After those choice words from this director, I still paid her a deposit to secure my daughter a spot in the school for the next school year. I made all kinds of excuses like not wanting to pull my daughter away from the friends she made and that, in part, was true. But the real reason I did it was because in the back of my mind that voice kept telling me over and over that maybe she WAS poorly behaved because of our parenting and us letting her have her way. Maybe her issues didn’t run deeper than that. After years of the sensory based meltdowns I witnessed I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my daughter may have to struggle with something that might make life a bit more challenging.  That voice of doubt has been with me from the get go. All the times people told me that my daughter was going through a stage and that she would grow out of it,  I insisted I didn’t believe it but those thoughts were always in the back of my mind. And whatever steps I would take towards facing her challenges, that voice of denial made me second guess each and every decision I made.

My first dose of reality came in April, when my second, non-sensory child was born. As much as I claimed to know that my older daughter’s sensory issues weren’t the norm, I still in the back of my mind kept thinking that maybe all kids reacted to their environment the same way. However, unlike my oldest daughter who had her first sensory related meltdown at just a few hours old, my little one is not nearly as sensitive to her environment as her sister is. The day my little one was born, a fire alarm went off in the hospital. My husband, so conditioned to think that all children would scream their heads off at such a thing, ran to her bassinet and covered her ears. She never flinched. And for the first time I realized that I have been in as much denial as any other parent. And, since that day in April, the reality checks have come in abundance. Back in August, my older daughter came running up the stairs, telling me she wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese..that she wasn’t scared of it anymore. The smile on her face was priceless and the feelings of pride were beaming from her. So I got up, got dressed and got right in the car. When we arrived I bought 100 tokens because she was going to have the ultimate experience..a celebration of another sensory obstacle overcome. My first sign of trouble was that my daughter was silent and still the entire time we waited on line to buy tokens. Not a word..not a movement..and not at all like her usual self. She chose her first game, put one token in, and when the game finished she fell apart. She screamed, she cried, she threw herself on the ground when I tried to stop her from running away from me. My heart broke. She hadn’t had a meltdown like that in almost a year. So what did I think? That, yes, maybe she was “over it.” Maybe she no longer had Sensory Processing Disorder. I was in denial, and I was wrong. The hardest part, and the most humbling in my experience with facing my own denial, was watching her stand in the doorway when she said she wanted to leave. She stood there for five minutes just watching the other kids play. They were smiling, they were laughing, they were having a great time. And she wanted to be just like them. She just couldn’t. She couldn’t because she has Sensory Processing Disorder. It is not a phase. She will not grow out of it. It will be an obstacle for her that she will face for the rest of her life. She has made tremendous gains and she will continue to do so. But her issues with her environment will be something she will have to consciously deal with in every situation she faces for the rest of her life. And I, like every other parent on the planet, have been in denial all along. I have been in denial about my denial.

My final confession for the day has to do with the 99 tokens left over from that day at Chuck E. Cheese. Any normal person would have gotten rid of them but those 99 tokens are sitting in the cup holder of my car. They have been there since that day and they will stay there. Every time I see them I am reminded of my daughter’s SPD. Those tokens are a tangible reminder of my denial and everyday, when I get in my car, I see them. And it brings me back to reality. I realize now why almost every parent I have ever approached about their struggling child has been less than receptive to what I had to say. Doubting that your child is struggling does not make you a bad parent. In fact, I now believe just the opposite. Parents feel this way because they care too much. Our job as parents is to protect our children. We know that the world is not a fair place. Life is tough on its own and any added struggle that our child may face makes us want to shelter them from it even more. I know that because I am the same way. And I have a cup full of Chuck E. Cheese tokens in my car to make sure I never forget that ever again.

Preschool Lessons

When I decided to enroll my two year old daughter in a preschool program, I had visions of a happy toddler building blocks, finger painting and singing songs in circle time. What I got was an anxious toddler, unable to navigate the routine of a structured environment with so much going on around her, screaming for seemingly no reason. The reason why we put her in school so young was to teach her to socialize, follow routines, make friends, and have fun. For my daughter, two hours of preschool was a trigger. In her first school, I was told she was acting like a “typical, spoiled only child.” The director of the school suggested I implement some discipline at home (suggesting that discipline was an area of parenting in which I was lacking) and dealt with the behavior by ignoring her. I was told they would leave her where she fell apart, without any redirection, and would wait until she pulled herself together to join the rest of the class. Again, she was only two at the time. Find me any child that age who has the ability to “pull themselves together” without any redirection or support. As a parent, this makes me furious but, as a teacher, even more so. The rule of thumb in behavioral intervention is this: Ignore the behavior, not the child. I’m all for that. But not in this case, and it’s not because this is my child we are talking about. First, if a child is engaging in behavior for the sake of getting attention or escaping an undesired task, then YES, by all means, ignore the behavior. Redirect the child, don’t neglect the child, and IF AND ONLY IF the child was behaving for the desired outcome of gaining attention or escaping a task, then the child will eventually give up and the behavior will stop.  When I asked the teachers if ignoring my daughter made her stop “acting out” they told me it did not. But they kept on. In their minds, she was spoiled. She wanted her way so she screamed. And there she was, at two years old, screaming in a corner as a cry for help, while the teachers went about their business. And that was my daughter’s introductory experience to school.

The following year I placed her in a different school. I spent weeks researching every preschool in the area, giving full disclosure of my daughter’s difficulties. I wasn’t sure what we were getting into but any school had to be better than the one she was in. Her teachers were kind but once the behavior started I was quickly told “they didn’t know what to do with her.” Once a formal evaluation was done in her classroom, modifications were sent in by both her occupational therapist and psychologist. Nothing major needed to be done yet the school told us that they could not make the recommended accommodations. A positive reinforcement chart was viewed as unfair to the other children. Giving her breaks or a separate, quiet space to work would be taking too much time away from the other children. So, without these accommodations, my daughter became the “problem” in the classroom. That one child you expect to have trouble everyday. I would be asked to stay behind almost daily when I picked her up to hear their latest issue with her. So while they started the year being patient and understanding, I could see she was wearing them down. At one point I was told she had a meltdown where the whole class stared at her, covering their ears while she screamed. No one removed her from the room or tried to help her. She became a spectacle. The teacher seemed annoyed that the rest of the day couldn’t go as planned because of this interruption. I was told that an “extra set of hands” was needed in order to deal with my daughter but, once that was put into place, the teachers made constant mention of my daughter “really loving all the special attention.” So, once again we were at the point where my daughter was being held accountable for things she could not control. She came into this school with an IEP. Yet they still held her to the same standards as the rest of the class, without any modifications. She wouldn’t have an IEP if she could do that. But they didn’t understand. So, it was time to move on.

This year, my daughter was placed into a special education program by our school district. It has been two weeks and the phone calls and notes home have already started…this time to tell me how great she is doing and how she is already exceeding expectations. She has had one episode in two weeks where she was brought to tears. Last year, she was having 5 episodes a day. Last night we had Back to School Night where the teacher explained what goes on in the classroom. My daughter has no special accomodations. The whole class is rewarded both as a group or individually for good behavior. My daughter has already received two prizes. There are opportunities everyday for them to move around. My daughter is hyperactive so everyday she gets the opportunity to get some of that energy out. These are the types of accomodations she needed in her other schools that they could not implement. Her past teachers saw these accomodations as “special treatment.” I just see them as good teaching practices. What child is not motivated by being rewarded? What child would not benefit from a few minutes of movement everyday? What child cannot use a break when they are feeling upset, overwhelmed or frustrated? I taught second grade and all my students benefited from these “special” accomodations. So, I find it odd that the only preschool that uses such techniques is one that is a “special needs” school. Other than the fact that half the children have IEPS and receive some related services, I find nothing “special” about the way this class is run.

When I graduated with my master’s degree in education I had to write my personal philosophy on education and I began it with a quote by John F. Kennedy which says, “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.”  As a teacher, I tried my best to hold each of my student’s to their own personal standards as best I could. My goal was to get them to learn in whichever manner served them best. And I realize now that for the past few years I have been searching for that as a parent. I have been told by teachers that my child is not like everyone else, like it was a bad thing. But why should she be? And more importantly, why would I want her to be? She is smart, she is funny, she has talent in bundles. Yet, she has been sad and anxious and disappointed in herself. She has limitations, we all do. As adults, we know our limitations and find a way to be successful that suits us best. That doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human. In school, children depend on their teachers to help them find a way to be successful. They are not mature enough to do it on their own. My daughter wasn’t successful in school because she wasn’t given the right opportunities to be successful. And now that she has been given the opportunity, there’s no telling what she can do!