Here we are at the end of May already and I can honestly say, I have never been more ready for summer to come. Like a lot of other families out there, this winter and spring seemed endless--so much more difficult than ones in the recent past. My four children passed each other one virus after another, Jaimie’s anxiety and sensory sensitivities skyrocketed and the icy, cold hand of winter just didn’t seem to want to let go. The combination of those things added to having been stuck indoors most days made the little changes that popped up a bit more difficult to endure, especially for Jaimie.
One of the most difficult things in living with Jaimie’s exceptionalities is how desperately she clings to the familiar. The familiar is less scary to her—she knows what to expect from the people and things she’s accepted into her rigid routine and need for sameness. In all fairness, she isn’t quite as rigid as she was when she was very tiny. I mean, there were times back then when she made me re-do a task or activity from the beginning if I’d missed one tiny step and I had to keep re-doing it until she felt better. Now, however, she’s come to understand that she can’t control everything in the outside world or how it may make her feel. She still struggles though. And admittedly, I may have been part of the problem.
Six years ago, before her SPD, OCD and anxiety diagnoses, it was easier allowing Jaimie to avoid anything that made her uncomfortable, or may have made her uncomfortable, than dealing with her meltdowns. It hurt me physically watching her struggle through anything new or during a transitional phase like a holiday. So, most of the time, her dad, Steve, and I let her stay inside avoiding people or places that frightened her or fun activities that might have been too stimulating for her. We’d even given up things we wanted to do to avoid upsetting her. And now I’m asking myself, “How did that help her?” Simply put? It didn’t. And I couldn’t keep on doing that to my Jaimie.
As parents of exceptional children, we’re used to changes—in medication doses or types; in diagnosis or prognosis; in the types, intensity or amounts of therapies or treatments—and we do our best to cope with them. But it hurts watching our children struggling with those changes or even coming to fear them. Here are some things Jaimie made me realize about delving into and embracing the new:
You don’t know until you try. If they want to try something, even if the activity or task needs to be tweaked a bit in order to make it possible we need to allow them to try. By helping our children avoid things we’re basically saying, “No, you can’t.” They already believe that or feel that from others. If Jaimie gets some prep time before something new, support during the activities and a bit of time to come down from the new sensations, she does fairly well. I use the words of a very wise Jedi-Master to make Jaimie giggle away her fears of trying something new: “Try not; do!”
We’re increasing his quality of life. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding something or someone one day because we just aren’t in the mood to deal with it—we’re all guilty of that. But avoiding things all the time won’t teach us how to cope with situations properly. And if a child doesn’t experience different activities or people, even if it’s in his own way, he’ll never discover all the wonderful and beautiful things life has to offer. Plus, as we all know, new experiences helps to increase brain power!
We’re giving her strength and courage. One of the most valuable but breakable things a child has is her self-esteem, especially when she already struggles with things she sees other children doing with ease. A great way to help keep her self-esteem strong is by reminding her of what she can do. And be sure to use those “can do” activities to turn to when they’re struggling through newer activities that aren’t coming as easily. That will give them the courage and strength to keep trying.
We’re teaching them acceptance. There’s a very old expression that goes, “God grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” By exposing your child to new things, and helping him work through life’s transitions, you’re teaching him the very heart of this expression: Acceptance of change, acceptance of what they can or can’t control when change occurs and what they can do to work through it. I think every child should have this expression posted up somewhere where they’ll always see it. I’ve been saying these words to Jaimie since she was very small and she now knows the words by heart and repeats them to herself whenever she feels down.
It’s all worth it…in the end. Believe me, I understand how hard it is to step back, let go and allow your child to experience things on her own—it’s a scary thing. For those of us who have a child with severe needs, it can be even scarier. But we have to remember that by letting her go and delve in the unknown…what’s new and exciting…we’re giving her a true gift, even if she only gets to enjoy it for a short time: the joy of being a child.
Even though we may not always see it, we are making a difference and they know we’re there for them—holding their hands through change.
CHYNNA LAIRD – is a psychology student, freelance writer and multi award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (eight), Jordhan (six), and baby Sophie (almost three!)] and baby boy, Xander (four). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.
You’ll find her work in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications in
Canada, United States, Australia, and . In addition, she’s authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a Young Adult novel (Blackbird Flies) and an adult Suspense/Thriller (The Gift to be released late 2011). Britain