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The SPD Companion, Issue # 013-- Infant / Toddler SPD
April 05, 2007
Many of you have written to me asking for this information. I do hope this edition gets you going in the right direction.
Before we get started, I do want to say I have, YET AGAIN, written a LENGTHY newsletter...I seem to write ,and then write and write some more, never knowing when to stop!
Now, onto our topic today; ah, yes... our little babies. Boy, are they adorable when they are sleeping, aren't they? But, sometimes, when they are awake, OH they can hit a nerve or two, can't they? Well, I hope to help you recognize signs of SPD in infants and toddlers and lead you to resources that will help explain why, and what you can do right now to make some of the more trying times a little bit easier.
How Did This Happen? Whose To Blame?Each in-utero and birthing experience is unique. Our natural tendencies as parents are individual and unique. Every environment a child is raised in is unique. Our child's genetic make-up is unique, as is ours. Dare we say, no two newborn and parent combinations are the same? The child brings it's nature, then we nurture based on our own nature and nurture, right? I think THIS, in itself, makes studying WHY 20% of children in the U.S. have SPD so very difficult. There ARE so many factors that influence a child's experience and development, right from day one (conception).
In a search for answers, some people ask...
Is it more likely a baby whose mom smoke, drank, or did drugs while pregnant will have a baby with SPD? Yes, it is.
Is it more likely a baby who had birth trauma and/or a lack of oxygen for a period of time will have SPD? Yes, it is.
Is it more likely that a baby who needed extended hospital stays, was premature, was tube fed for a long period of time, had invasive procedures and/or was in the NICU for some time will have SPD? Yes, it is.
Is it also true that if a child was institutionalized or deprived of sensory stimulation and bonding in the first months of life, they will be more likely to have SPD? Yes it is.
It is additionally true that if the parents, siblings or grandparents were suspected of having SPD, the child might too (there IS some genetic component, although scientists have not yet isolated the responsible gene).
BUT, it is ALSO true that a pregnancy can go as expected, a birthing experience go well, the in-utero experiences normal, a family history not indicative of SPD, and a child is STILL born with neurodevelopmental problems. So, this is NOT a blame game. It is what it is. True, there IS a predisposition in the above mentioned examples, but these are NOT always the direct “cause”.
Doing The Best We Can With What We KnowFor those of you who have read my I've Been There page, you know that my daughter was NOT meeting developmental milestones (eating, sleeping, self-soothing, etc.) with relative ease or comfort!! She was uncomfortable most of the time, and I, in response to that, was also “uncomfortable”. I knew in my gut, something was different, something was not quite right.
I wondered how all the other moms could do this, raising and taking care of such a needy and sensitive child (what I at the time thought was "normal"). Were all children like mine? I wondered some days...where did all the other mothers get the strength? I didn't know taking care of a child was such HARD work! But, then again, I also started to wonder (as time passed and she got a little older)... why IS my daughter doing some of these things? Because, I don't see OTHER children acting this way.
Wait a minute...why are THOSE kids just sleeping right through everything, not clinging to mom every second of the day, allowing other people to hold them, smiling and cooing with their extended family, eating/drinking regular formulas and baby food, not startling and crying with every sound, sleeping in a normal crib all by themselves, taking naps, enjoying being tossed and thrown up in the air, self-soothing, etc.
Darn it! Maybe it is me! What have I done?! What is wrong with me? With her? Will it always be like this? Why is she sucking the life out of me? Why can't I parent effectively? Why am I so emotionally and physically drained by my own child? By everyone around me? Am I a bad mom? Why do I feel like I CAN'T do this? Why do I want to just run away? Why doesn't the pediatrician understand what we are talking about? Why is he saying it is “completely normal”? I KNOW in my heart, THIS is not “normal”. But, HE'S the expert, or so I thought. You see, he had no idea what SPD was (this was 10 years ago...a factor in it, but not an excuse).
It wasn't until I heard about SPD, when my daughter was about two years old, that the light bulb finally came on! No, she was not “normal”...yes, she DID have a disorder that made life more difficult for her! And me. Good, I'm not crazy, and it is NOT my fault. Hmm... actually, I realize that now, but at the time I didn't have any support telling me it wasn't my fault. I was blamed and criticized from day one, and still am to this day by some...the ones who haven't taken the time to learn about, or “believe”, SPD is REAL.
But, you know what? In the end it didn't matter because I knew I was doing the best I could with what I knew. That's all we can really do. The key being, “with what I knew”...THIS is why educating people about SPD is so critically important. I want them to do the best they can with what they know, giving them as much as I possibly can to “know” and work with.
Do we have ALL the answers to every disability, every
developmental delay, every illness, every disease...no we don't.
So, all we can do is do our best, with the knowledge we have, and
hope that is enough.
Moving On; Finding StrengthFirst, we must grieve.
Do we face a "loss" when we find out our child has challenging issues that will need extra care and attention? Yes, we surely do! We first, must grieve. It IS a loss...the loss of having the "perfect" child. A loss of our time and patience to care for this child who needs so much. A loss for us and a loss for our child. It's okay to grieve, it is expected, and it is necessary! Don't take this lightly or rush it, it needs to run it's course.
After we have given ourselves permission to feel, to grieve, to question, to be angry...we move on to a higher purpose. How will we accentuate the gifts/the strengths and minimize the difficulties? How will we respond to our baby's needs, to our needs and the blend of the two?
Certainly you are aware of the old "nature vs. nurture" debate. I have to say, I don't chose one or the other...I choose BOTH. I think Dr. Stanley Greenspan is a "genius" for his thoughts and explanations of how the two are not separate, but completely intertwined, and how we need to work to develop the best possible relationship between ourselves and our children based on this! Perhaps, you've heard of his "Floortime" program/concept that is used to address this? If not, I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with it at www.floortime.org (go to the FAQ section) ...for your sake and for the sake of your children.
As of late, it has become increasingly clear to me how nature AND nurture DO indeed affect our child's development and our role as parents. The reason is because we have adolescents and adults coming out of the woodwork like crazy! They are emailing me, they are talking in our SPD Adult SHARE Yahoo Support Group , they are realizing in having their children diagnosed they TOO must have had SPD all along!! It is beautiful and sad at the same time.
These adults, fighting so hard to get through every day with their own SPD issues, are now having to parent children who also have SPD. As if that weren't enough, many will be on opposite ends of the spectrum; the parent may be an avoider, their child a seeker, the parent a seeker, the child an avoider. Some parents are struggling to get their own sensory needs met and controlled, and here comes an even bigger priority, or so it seems ...their children.
For, we ALL know, we can NOT take care of others if we do not take care of ourselves FIRST. This is hard to do when you have a child! I think many of us have the tendency to take care of the child first, especially when they are so demanding and all consuming due to SPD. But, I assure you... if you don't take care of yourself, your own sensory diet and preferences, you're own rest, you're own interests too... life with your child, and in your family will be MUCH more difficult! I don't want you to find out the hard way...please just believe me, if your heart and mind are open and willing. Please!
So, how DO we function with this needy child? How DO we feel
competent as parents, caregivers, and professionals? How DO we help
this “challenging child”? First, with true understanding.
A New Perspective On The Old
Enter, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, renowned child psychologist and author of
The Challenging Child . He says:
We all need to understand that sensory motor development is on a continuum and has specific stages that one goes through. They are like building blocks...you must have the foundation before you can put another block on, then another, then another. There is a certain “order” to things and age ranges within which a child should be reaching each of these milestones and stages. If a building block does NOT happen, or is not "sturdy" enough, the rest may not be able to balance on top of the one before.
With this in mind, we know, for example...
a child can not crawl before he can pick his head up or coordinate the two sides of his body.
a child can not learn and explore toys if everything he touches hurts.
a child can not relate to and interact with others if he can not process facial expressions or language.
a child will not be able to concentrate on any sensory motor task if he can not filter out background noises or does not feel feedback from his body.
a child can not sit upright at his desk and write legibly using the fine muscles of his hand if he does not have trunk and shoulder stability.
I think you get the point.
So, once we are aware of the developmental milestones, we must also be aware if a child is struggling to meet any of them, or even if he attempts to skip some of them. It is also important to note that often times a child may be developing properly within the time frame of each milestone, but the QUALITY is poor. This IS a significant sign of SPD, and must also be paid attention to. All of this is where our keen observational skills as doctors, parents, therapists, teachers, and family members come into play. This is also where our “gut instincts” tend to come in. It is not about comparing our children to other children, because each child will develop differently and at different rates...some will be late, some early, some on time, and some will struggle with only certain ones. It is about honestly looking at our child and seeing if there are indications that this child needs some extra help... something is really getting in their way or ours.
Infants and toddlers have specific milestones and tasks that they MUST be able to accomplish to move on to bigger and better things developmentally. If they are NOT able to tolerate sensory input in an adaptive and functional way, their future learning, self-esteem, and life skills are in jeopardy ...and so is the family's functioning. We must heed the warnings! Now is the time, while the nervous system is at it's prime for proper long-term development. Don't wait, trust your gut as well as the knowledge you have gained, and continue to learn.
If you get nothing else from this edition of the newsletter, I want you to know THIS...
IF a child's LACK OF DEVELOPMENT of certain skills and ability to learn, interact in the world with caregivers, peers, and play, OR THE QUALITY of skill development is poor, a professional should be contacted, particularly IF these interfere with and impact daily functioning. Every child is different and develops at different rates within a certain timetable. If mastery is difficult, and daily life is significantly impacted for both the child and the family, then red flags should be raised and an evaluation sought.
For proper development, an infant/toddler must be able to self-soothe, tolerate eating/drinking, sleep, play, explore, learn, and progress developmentally with relative ease and comfort. If he is NOT, then professional help is indeed warranted.
In an upcoming issue of the SPD Companion, we will discuss solutions and treatment more in depth. But, for now, the links and resources I am providing at the end will get you started with the basics and some things to start learning about and doing right NOW while you await a potential evaluation or, even, prevent the need for one... Education first, THEN treatment.
Remember... first, trust your gut. Then evaluate whether the child can tolerate sensory input (how, when, how much, what types), then evaluate the severity (timing, duration, and frequency of difficulties), next get an evaluation if indicated, and lastly, start treatment. A BASIC understanding of sensory processing and sensory processing disorder has to come first, so the treatment will make sense and be effective. (Don't misunderstand... You WILL learn SO MUCH more once you start active treatment with an OT...you don't have to know it ALL now, just the basics.)
- You can not help the child UNLESS you understand the basic concepts behind SPD.
- You can't educate others UNTIL you understand it yourself.
- You can't help your child until you have your OWN sensory needs understood and accommodated for.
- You can't expect the professionals to make your child “better” unless you understand and are invested in this as well.
It is a dynamic interplay between nature and nurture. We MUST understand this, and be willing to do the best we can with what we know! THAT makes a great parent, professional, and/or caregiver, and THIS knowledge will be the most effective tool you'll have in making a bright, loving future, one with tremendous potential for one more child!
Stanley Greenspan is one of the best in his field and has contributed true brilliance to child psychology and development. I have compiled this book and other great books by him for you to take a look at too...they are priceless really. Check them out at:
Another book that turns parenting an SPD child (or shall we say, “spirited child”) into a positive experience is also a tremendous favorite of mine (EVERY parent should read this one!!)...
Raising Your Spirited Child, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
OUR role in talking to our children, understanding our children, and talking to others about our children is critically important for fostering good self-esteem and an honest understaning. This book will help you do it right!
Raising Your Spirited Child, plus other books I highly recommend can be found at:
The additional resources you will need to begin helping and understanding infants and toddlers, diagnosed or undiagnosed, with SPD are:
Dr. Stanley Greenspan's Website (biography, courses, trainings, and publications)
Books On Infants, Babies, Picky Eating, Fussy Babies And More
The Importance Of, And How To Provide Sensory Stimulation For Infants / Toddlers
Suggestions For Infant Play Activities
Sensory Toys For Infants, Babies, and Toddlers
Toys For Infant Stimulation
Suggested Gross Motor Activities For Toddlers
Early Intervention FAQ's And Resources
Do you think your child might have SPD? Then THIS is the place to start... The Step-By-Step-Guide
Do you need to find an Occupational Therapist to evaluate (or treat) your child? Then THIS is the article to read... Finding An OT For SPD
And don't forget...SPDParentSHARE.com for resources and support in your local area (MANY local groups have been added recently!)
You must seek as much information as you can regarding "normal" development, and know that if your child is not progressing in all areas with quality and within the proper ranges of time, an early intervention referral should be sought.
After looking at the pages I have referred to I do hope you find a place to start NOW to help understand and influence your baby's development. Just remember, the time is NOW, while they are young, to pay attention to developmental red flags.
Think of it this way... playing, eating, sleeping, self-soothing, learning, communicating and regulating their arousal levels ARE their "occupation", their JOB... these all help them engage in their world and lay the foundation for further, more refined skills. If they can not meet the "job requirements", then they will need additional help.
Please pay attention to these areas and find them the help they need if quality or timing are not as they should be. Denial will not help our children. Simly put, if you are concerned...get an evaluation. The sooner we treat them, the better the chances are that they will overcome their difficulties or obstacles, and the more at peace we will be knowing we did the best we could with what we knew. Like I always say...education is key, knowledge is power! True? Isn't this how you all got here? Trying to educate yourselves about SPD? Aha! ...my point exactly.
Keep your eyes, hearts, and mind open. You never know when you will find yourself BLESSED with an SPD child... YOU can "save" them, IF you take action!