Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tea Cups and Trampolines: Understanding SPD

The Tea Cups at Disney--a favorite of my children, only Mommy doesn't like to go too fast!

Why in the world do we like to get dizzy?  

It has something to do with our senses.  

Did you know that there are more than five senses? Really. There are seven of them, actually. And, the two that we didn't learn about in elementary school are crucial to a child's development. 

As a little girl, I remember twirling around and around my grandmother's livingroom with arms extended like a helicopter until I lost my balance and crashed onto the olive-colored plush carpet, the room still spinning.

Or better yet, leaping on a friend's full size trampoline, attempting to defy gravity and grinning from ear to ear!

These two sensations of movement, spinning or jumping up and down, activate the vestibular and proprioceptive senses.  You probably haven't heard a lot about these other senses maybe because they are so hard to say, or because they aren't as external as the other senses.

What happens when these two senses are impaired? How would you know? What would it look like?

Well, I found this out the hard way. When my Little Man was about fifteen months old, he still wasn't walking. Temper tantrums were already in full swing, and there were times where I was at my wits end about what to do. I cried out to the Lord in prayer, begging him to help my son and show me what to do. 

His pediatrician wasn't too concerned, but sent him to an orthopedic doctor just in case.

The doctor took a look at him and said, "Well, there's nothing wrong structurally. His bones look fine, but because he isn't standing at fifteen months, it could be a CNS issue."

Earning a degree in Communicative Disorders, I knew that CNS meant the central nervous system.

Is there something wrong with his nervous system?

Back in college, I used to be a speech-language pathology assistant for a special needs preschool. There were many children there with cerebral palsy. The therapists and teachers would use therapy brushes and vigorously brushed the children on their legs and arms. It did something positive to their nervous systems.

So, I tried this with my son. I kept brushing him and coaxing him to stand for about a week until he took his first steps.  Needless to say, he skipped cruising and standing, which is detrimental for brain development as well, but I'll get to that in a later blog.

Thinking that he was over whatever was causing him to lag behind in his development, I didn't pursue asking his pediatrician to send him to be tested for physical or occupational therapy. 

As far as I knew, he didn't have any underlying problem, except that he was a late walker.

By the time, my Little Man was four, he was still having meltdowns, and I started to pursue more answers. I had him tested by our county's early intervention center. His speech was fine, but his gross and fine motor skills were delayed.

The diagnostician had seen many children with my son's same issues and they were diagnosed with sensory processing disorder or SPD.  She said it was mild, though, and gave me some activities to do with him at home.

Not content to try to give him therapy alone, I asked his pediatrician to refer him to be tested by someone professional. 

Our insurance company only covered one therapy center in town, so that's where we went. The occupational therapist who tested him, also thought he had SPD, as did a psychiatrist who interviewed him.

For the next two years, my Little Man received sensory integration therapy twice a week, then eventually, once a week. I started to see progress in him meeting all his developmental milestones. The temper tantrums waned, because his nervous system was working better at keep his senses all working in-sync.

Reading The Out-of Sync Child, I learned more about SPD, and what I, as a parent, could do to help my child.

Putting, my Little Man on a "sensory diet" would help his brain make new connections so that his nervous system would get even more in-sync.

The sensory diet included activities that would activate his proprioceptive and vestibular senses mostly--those two, rarely talked about senses whose impairments were causing my son to lag behind in his development.

Well, here we are, three years after his diagnosis, and he's come a long way. He no longer is receiving occupational therapy, but I have continued his sensory diet for the time being.

He is also going to be tested for vision therapy because he has complained about seeing double and skips words while reading.

While my Little Man is not cured, I've seen him come a long way. At six years old, he is so much more affectionate now, and loves to play with his siblings. He's loving math, and even reading in small bits. He recently went on a camping trip with his daddy and was the first to try the zip line.

Being thankful to the Lord that I am not alone in this has helped me to have peace every step of the way. He has the power to heal and the grace to bear me up when that is not His will.

I still have questions; I still don't totally get all the in's and out's of SPD, but I don't think I have to. Just knowing that Jesus loves me is enough, and He loves my Little Man--that's definitely enough!               

"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it...for you created my inmost parts, you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, and that my soul knows well.(Psalm 139: 6, 13-14)."