By Lauren Lund, Guest Writer
The day my daughter was born, there were tornado warnings.
The geography of where we lived pretty much made a tornado impossible. Yet, there it was on the TV: WARNING! TORNADO! I truly believe my daughter rode this storm to earth, and she has not slowed down since. Her feisty spirit is full of love, sass, and sheer determination.
Most of the time, I love the tornado that is “Emilia.” However, in her four short years here with me, her storminess has, at times, left me exhausted, emotional, depleted, teary-eyed, feeling like a failure, and desperate for help.
My husband and I received our first bit of help when we got a name for this storm inside of our baby girl: “Sensory Processing Disorder.”
The behavioral pediatrician also diagnosed Emilia with anxiety, which is a frequent partner in crime for kids who have SPD or Autism. It was hard to hear this news, because who wants their four year old first-born baby girl to struggle with the heaviness of anxiety?
Surely I had failed her as a parent. Her diagnosis was somehow my fault. I wrung my hands as I thought, “What could I have done differently?”
It wasn’t until I began to learn about sensory issues that I realized my parenting hadn’t done much to cause them. All people struggle, to some degree, in coping with certain sensory input (like nails on a chalkboard), yet usually they learn how to cope.
People with SPD have a similar, yet heightened, struggle with sensory input, but they can’t find ways to cope on their own. Emilia’s outbursts, meltdowns, fixations, and struggles with transitions had all been signs, cries for help that I had been too prideful to see because they pointed somehow – I thought – to my failures as her mother.
After wrestling with the news for a while, I decided to hear what the doctor had actually said: “Seek help for your daughter’s sake.”
In the midst of my own self-pity about her diagnosis, I had missed the key factor. This had nothing to do with how I felt about my daughter’s diagnosis; it had everything to do with getting her help and support that would assist her in dealing with life and all of its sounds, looks, feelings, pushings and pullings.
The next morning I made a call to set up speech and occupational therapy for her. I was being stretched beyond the limits and comfort of the “motherhood” I knew, and I was being pulled into territory that was new, that was scary, but that would ultimately bring healing to my daughter.
I began to see that there was nothing scary about putting my kid in therapy. In fact, it brought healing not only to Emilia, but also to our whole family as we gained greater understanding of our girl’s struggles and figured out how to best help her.
Recently, the therapists have been working with Emilia on recognizing emotions and learning how to handle them in better ways. These lessons included a drawing session where Emilia had to depict each “zone” of emotion on paper.
The “red zone” is the “angry, upset or scared” mode. Emilia’s drawing of how she feels in the red zone made my heart sink once again.
After staring at her red zone picture for a moment, her therapist handed me her “green zone” picture; Emi had said it was where she was “calm and happy,” and told her therapist she wanted “to learn how to stay in the green zone better.” My heart immediately leapt in sudden realization that Emilia comprehended she had scary feelings inside of her, but they weren’t permanent.
She could choose to move to a different “zone”; she could move from sad to happy. She could move from angry to calm, and she realized she could express her emotions in a drawing. But she had to sketch out her red-zone before she realized that she’d rather feel a different way.
She had learned an important lesson that day, and so did I. Maybe Emilia wasn’t the only one that needed help.
We left hand in hand, excited to come back the next week and learn more about how to understand both ourselves, and each other, better.
Bio: Lauren Lund is an adjunct professor at Liberty University Online, Cuyahoga Community College, and Bryant and Stratton College. When she isn’t lesson planning or grading, she is cooking with her husband, playing Spiderman with her son, making crafts with her daughter, or sleeping — probably sleeping.