Finding What Works for My Son: An Ongoing Journey
"He'll grow out of it."
"He's just all boy."
"Isn't he only 3?"
After bringing home a whirlwind of a toddler at age 2 1/2 from Korea, these phrases were the backdrop of many conversations I had with friends and family about our youngest, Ty. The problem was that he wasn't growing out of it, other boys were not like Ty, and he was 5 but just really small for his age.
My mother's intuition told me there was something more. The letters ADHD floated around in my mind while I watched my child routinely climb to the highest point he could find and jump.
I'm an avid reader and verbal processor so I started reading and talking. Reading lead me to checklists that all but formally diagnosed our son's behavior as ADHD. Books and adoptive parent training also told me his past traumas had altered his brain chemistry making him more likely to suffer from any number of lettered diagnoses. Then, during a conversation with a dear friend who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, she said her profession is phasing out ADD/ADHD and recognizing that a person's inability to attend is usually due to a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If one's body is misinterpreting what is going on around him, it is almost impossible to attend to a task at hand.
SPD. I had read about that and was fairly certain it was another 3 letter diagnosis that fit my son. We found a phenomenal Occupational Therapist (OT). She confirmed that his seemingly hyper behavior and constant motion was indeed to a sensory seeking brand of SPD. Additionally, Ty was diagnosed with a dyspraxia that impaired his ability to know where his body was in space. This could explain why he often looked like he was not paying attention during group activities such as Tae Kwon Do. His body was almost never doing what it was supposed to which made it look like he just was not following directions. A dyspraxia diagnosis meant he may have been paying attention and trying all along but actually had been unable to conform.
To address the sensory seeking, our OT suggested that a steady "diet" of activities that purposely engaged Ty's proprioceptive and vestibular systems would calm him enough to function. Our decision to homeschool would allow Ty the sensory breaks he would need to get through a school day. The problem was that no amount of carrying heavy books, joint compressions, swinging, or spinning seemed to satiate his voracious sensory appetite.
Under the constant guidance of a physician who specializes in pediatric integrative medicine and allergies, we have been adjusting Ty's diet and supplements as well, to see if there is an underlying allergy. Currently, Ty follows a dairy/gluten/phenol0l-free diet and takes a digestive enzyme, high doses of liquid fish oil, folate, zinc, a yeast inhibitor, probiotic, and l-theanine.
I’m happy to say that my son has recently had a language explosion, started making eye contact and speaking at appropriate volume, and his social skills improved. While he has come a long way, Ty still has a long way to go. I am also stocking up on sensory activities to create a school environment that sets him up for success. There are wiggle seats, balance boards, fidget toys, therapy putty, climbing apparatus, an MP3 player, and plenty of planned break time.
We start our school day with Bible listening time. During that time, I provide fidget toys such as Wikki Stix, therapy putty, and pipe cleaners to keep his hands busy so his mouth can stay quiet. Sitting on a T-stool or standing on a balance board also helps to activate the brain's language center during speech and listening activities. When Ty moves into table work, he has a wiggle seat that allows some kinetic movement while he works. Using a weighted lap pad or making sure his seat is as close to the table (horizontally and vertically) as possible also helps him sit longer. A whiff of peppermint essential oil can help him concentrate for a couple extra precious minutes.
After each still activity, I make sure Ty has a break to climb, swing, or do heavy work like hauling laundry baskets for me. These activities help organize his sensory systems so he can be successful at the next task. Music can also be very relaxing for kids. Ty loves to sit with an MP3 player loaded with his weekly memory work to song while he's waiting for his turn for me to help him.
In the afternoons, he spends time in a soothing, hot bath with Epsom salts and calming essential oils. And, hopefully, by the end of the day, his specialized routine helps both of us feel successful and hopeful for what the future will bring.