First days of school are nerve-wracking for lots of people, but especially for those with Sensory Processing Disorder. Most ASD people have some type of SPD (or several), but there are also many people with SPD who do not have autism. Aidan is one of them.
In the beginning, of course, I did not know this, but early on I thought he might have something I read about called “low sensory threshold.” He cried when I held him, he cried when I put him down, he cried in the baby swing, he cried in the car, he cried in stores, and he cried at home. He cried about 80% of his waking life. I did not know what to do for this child. The crying was so extreme that it prompted his two-year-old autistic brother to speak one of his first words: “cying.” He was trying to say “crying” but couldn’t get the “r” sound. “Yes, Aidan is crying,” I would tell Nigel.
Aidan was about one and a half when Nigel was diagnosed with autism. At the time, I thought about the fact that Aidan was also not making any attempts to talk and had very sensitive hearing, like Nigel. I wondered if Aidan also had autism. There were many who suggested that Aidan was simply mimicking his older brother, but the signs were there even when Nigel was elsewhere. Nigel’s autism was more on the severe side as a young child, fairly obvious once diagnosed, so if Aidan did have some level of autism, I thought it might have been PDD-NOS. Trying to be objective, I looked at the differences in my sons’ behavior. Aidan made eye contact. He knew how to play with toys. He did not stim. He was just always crabby about something. So PDD-NOS did not seem correct. But what, then?
When Aidan was three years old I was able to enroll him in the same early intervention program that had been so beneficial for Nigel. The therapists evaluated Aidan and informed me that he had problems with sensory integration (SPD hadn’t been coined at the time) and a developmental delay in language. They provided OT and speech therapy, which seemed to help him. But it wasn’t until he was five that Aidan seemed to tolerate his body and his surroundings better. He finally seemed happy.
Aidan continued to receive speech therapy until he was almost ten, and I could tell he was glad when that was behind him. He is now IEP-free (yes, I did the happy dance when I left the last meeting, because now I only have one child with an IEP) and does quite well in spite of the fact that he is the pickiest eater in all of southern Oregon (at least) and hates wearing shoes because “they smash my feet.” He constantly complains about smells that no one else smells, he wears the same clothes for days on end because they’re the only ones he feels comfortable in, can’t stand having his hair brushed, gets carsick, and won’t tie shoelaces or ride a bike. But at least he no longer cries 80% of the day!
And so I was a bit concerned about Aidan’s first day at a new school. School in general can be a pain for SPD kids due to the potential for sensory overload. I drove Aidan this morning so he wouldn’t have to “process” the bus yet, and I think that helped to ease him into the first day. He said the lockers aren’t so bad, and he assured me that he didn’t buy anything at the vending machines. He didn’t get lost, and he got on the right bus to come home. Best of all, he didn’t get carsick!
Added 9/13/08: an informative SPD site – click here