Sensory WHAT?


Raising a toddler with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) is tricky. And I don’t use that word “tricky” very lightly.

Sensory Processing / Sensory Integration is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses.

For example, with my toddler, I have learnt to give her lots of notice before we move from one task to another. Sudden change will derail her. We’ve learnt to choose her outfits for school the night before. There are many reasons for this. Most of the time, she is always feeling very hot and doesn’t want to wear anything tight, or anything with scratchy labels. So she may end up wearing summer dresses in winter, no socks and she might wear shoes if we’re lucky. She also doesn’t like to be put under pressure to make decisions quickly. When we agree on what she is going to wear the night before, there is no drama in the morning, and everyone is happy.

One day in the week, against my better judgement, I presented her with new sneakers we had chosen together the day before. Beaming from ear to ear, I enthusiastically got them onto her feet before she had time to object. I held my breath as she reluctantly got off the bed and walked to the door. Two steps in and she turned around to face me. “I can’t wear these”. “Why not?”. “Because I can’t feel my heel. “Of course you can feel your heel”. “No I CAN’T!!.” And straight away we go into melt-down mode. And that is that. Off come the shoes. And on go the slops.

The truth is, at that moment, she really can’t feel her heel in that shoe. For her, the successful completion of any activity (such as eating, reading, cycling etc.) requires the correct processing sensation or sensory integration. In this particular instance, she needs to feel solid on the ground. If she can’t feel her heel in that shoe because the fabric is too hard, or for whatever reason – there is absolutely nothing we can do – because the messages received by her brain are not adequate enough to give her the sensory responses she requires to feel like her feet are planted firmly on the ground.

On a good day, she might eat breakfast. Most of the time, I pack a breakfast snack for the car. One morning, on the way to school, I was a little flustered because she had gone into melt-down about what stockings to wear. She wanted thin ballet ones, I wanted thick woolly (and probably too scratchy for her) winter ones. In the end, we settled on cowboy boots without socks.

Anyway, so, there I was in the car, flustered and rushing, and she spilt her boiled eggs on the back seat. For me, with serious OCD, it was devastating. I pulled over, mopped up the eggs with my wet-wipes, and gave her a very stern look. She stared back at me intently and said : “Mommy, I really want to marry Daniel Smith but I am already married to Joshua, what do you think I should do?” 

Washing hair is another tricky position to be in. She will ask me 100 times before her bath if we are washing hair. And she has very long hair. Straight away, she is panicking and hyperventilating about water that is in her eyes. “Are we finished YET?”, she will scream – and the water is not even turned on yet!

She also still sucks her dummy. This is when she is tired, or feeling anxious. Children with SPD need to regulate themselves. My toddler does so by sucking her dummy, and playing with the ears of her two bunnies (one for each hand of course), since birth.

One day, she got back from school and screamed blue murder that her bunnies didn’t smell the same. I had forgotten that Vicky, our nanny, had washed them and sewn the ear back together. Needless to say, the next half hour was spent unpicking the stitches and returning the bunny back to its former tattiness.

At night when I put her to bed, she wants butterfly kisses. Some nights, I forget the order that I do them in, and she will remind me and demonstrate with her arms wrapped tightly around my neck. In that moment, with her cheeks pressed closely to mine, and the smell of her freshly washed hair, I am so in love with her – I can’t even breathe. And all the anxiety and stress of her disorder is so completely worth it when she says “Mommy, will you marry me?”, and then drops off into a deep sleep. (Sucking her dummy of course).

Ann Warsop
3rd June 2015