Articles and blog posts on the early signs of SPD (sensory processing disorder, which I call sensory processing differences) and autism fill me with a mixture of recognition (yes, much is familiar), trepidation (at this point I’ve reached a certain level of saturation and also seen many stereotypes and errors), annoyance (ditto, plus the occasional offensive or condescending bits can set me back for days), and, sometimes, gratitude (after all, some of this stuff could be very helpful to parents – and most writers mean well!).
I usually find that I am holding my breath as I read, waiting for the triggers...yet I am compelled to read, always hoping to learn more about our neurodiverse world.
My son G was diagnosed with SPD at three, autism at eight. Being a bit spectrumesque myself, I would never have thought there was anything about him that needed to be evaluated (his evaluations were always at the behest of his teachers) but in retrospect a few things stand out.
My earliest memory of being aware of G’s possible difference from his “normal” peers occurred in an infant massage class. We mothers – this was in the East Village, in New York City, but yup, all mothers – were told to sit in a circle. I don’t remember precisely how old the babies were – early parenthood is kind of a blur – but they were all quite young, a few months old at most. We had pads and brought blankets and placed our babies on their backs on those blankets. We were given diagrams of massage strokes and instructed in proper technique for stroking and soothing our babies.
Infant massage was meant to be a bonding exercise. To stimulate our babies’ brains and help with their digestion! To make them happy! Healthy!
Except - my baby didn’t seem to be with the program. While all the other babies enjoyed a free and loving massage – yeah, try getting that a few decades down the line, babies! - my darling G was having none of it.
Figure I – Infant Massage Class. Not Shown: Ashamed Mother.
As soon as I tried to massage him, heck, as soon as I lay him down on his back, the screaming would start. Sure, there was the occasional peep from another baby, but nothing like G’s agonized cries. I actually tried three sessions before giving up in despair.
Clearly, I was missing some important mothering skills. I blamed myself, of course.
When G was a baby, I thought of myself as someone who accepted all people, someone who would never discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation...Someone who accepted and loved people of all sorts. Yet I knew little to nothing about neurodiversity!
It would have been helpful to me as a new mother to have a positive concept of other kinds of difference, an idea of the incredibly wide ranges of neurology, physiology, psychology, sensitivity, sensory processing etc. that make up human beings. Obviously, this would not have led to shifting blame to my baby! It just would have made things make sense.
It would have helped to know that my baby needed deep pressure, not fluttery strokes that probably felt like torture to him. It might have been best to keep him partly or fully wrapped so that he could locate his body safely in space, instead of flailing around. He never liked being moved; there might have been better ways to transition him.
Instead, all I knew - in that context, with the limited knowledge I had – was that something seemed wrong. Since I myself had also always been “different,” this initially added to my disorientation and self-blame.
These moments keep coming, but now they come cushioned with fundamental commitments to diversity, acceptance, and hope.
When you and/or your child live(s) with an invisible, complex difference, explanations and strategies can be elusive and imprecise. I still sometimes don’t know whether my child needs help; and when he does need help I don’t always know how to help him. Sometimes I try to help him in unhelpful, unwanted or unnecessary ways, as do others. Other times we miss the boat and G is on his own with his challenges when some wisdom or support is sorely needed.
When G was screaming in the otherwise serene and harmonious infant massage space, I knew he was deeply uncomfortable, but I didn’t know that he had SPD, or that he was autistic, and that his sensitivities would benefit from a very different approach. Parents who recognize their children in “early signs” lists will I hope have important tools at their disposal, not least the knowledge that all parties concerned are doing their best – and that that is just fine. For the Full Spectrums, the labels that apply to us are mostly useful in that regard.
There’s still so much I don’t know, but I do know our differences are not our “fault.” I know that what is “wrong” is not us but a world that is primarily designed for the “average,” “normal” person – whoever that is.
I know that I accept and celebrate G exactly as he is. Same for me. And you. And you, and you, and you...:
This blog is a safe space for people to recognize a full spectrum of human being, and to explore how we might make the world a more welcoming place for all. Parents and caregivers who are searching for ways to understand, connect with, and support their children, individuals who are exploring their own differences, early-signers and adult-figure-outers, you are all welcome here.
Please visit the other sites below for more informative and inclusive posts.
Full Spectrum Mama
Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!