Wrapping our way through Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complex neurological disorder that impedes the integration and processing of the five senses, vestibular system, and/or proprioception. -Dr. Rebekah A. Wittman

Although it was only recently that Lilah received her official Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis, we have been coping with it from the day she was born. Babywearing and child wearing, has been a part of our daily lives and interactions since birth, and it was only recently as we got the official report and profile of her SPD classifications that I began to reflect on how wearing has been an effective strategy for dealing with our daily struggles.

As an infant Lilah was extremely fussy, constantly screaming and inconsolable. We walked out of the pediatrician’s office with the label “colic” even though I knew in my heart that wasn’t the right term for our struggles. For the greater part of each day I coped with Lilah’s screaming by wrapping her tightly to me. This seemed to make her happy, and we could eliminate the crying all together if I combined wearing her in the wrap with spending hours upon hours bouncing on an exercise ball, convincing myself that this was normal baby behavior that she would certainly grow out of soon.

As the months wore on Lilah’s fussiness did not improve. It seemed to appear that colic wasn’t the right classification so the general consensus was that her “strong personality” was to blame, or perhaps karma for years of torture I inflicted upon my own mother. The wrap came to our rescue day in and day out, but as Lilah grew heavier, I could no longer withstand the hours of bouncing on the ball. In a last ditch effort to soothe my child I turned her around, facing outward in the wrap. I was warned to watch for overstimulation, and of course like any new parent, I hovered nervously over my daughter watching for the slightest sign of her tiring. Lilah, however, never appeared to tire of the world. In fact, this was the only way to quiet the hours and hours of screaming I would otherwise battle.

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I thought the whole “overstimulation” thing was a myth because not only did Lilah never tire, but she was also never so happy as she was facing out in the wrap. Looking back nearly four and a half years later, with SPD diagnosis data in my hand, I know that Lilah never tiring of this position was a result of her sensory seeking tendencies. Lilah still never tires of the world and even to this day giving her access to lots of input helps calm her.

As a babywearing educator I am more than aware of the fact that forward facing out is not the most optimal position, but it was a saving grace for my baby that never stopped crying, and a mother that was constantly on the brink of exhaustion. Although I had no idea of the specifics of Lilah’s Sensory Processing Disorder and the diagnosis that would come four years later, I sensed the presence of something bigger going on with Lilah than what I understood, but I also had the intuition to know when something was working, and when the benefits outweighed the downfalls.

As Lilah grew taller and heavier it soon became very awkward and uncomfortable to face her outward, and thankfully I had been introduced to the world of woven wraps at that point. A high back carry became a welcome substitute for our previous wearing position. Lilah was able to get the stimulation she needed constantly, and was also able to serve as an effective tool when other challenges with her “personality” came up.

The constant screaming started to cease somewhat over the following years but Lilah’s abilities to calm herself and self soothe were still not developing. A typical toddler tantrum would last three hours or more, excruciating for everyone involved. Recalling the endless bouncing that soothed her as an infant, I would wrap Lilah on my back and attempt to recreate that movement by running circles around the first floor of my house, which was physically demanding but worked wonders. The sturdiness of the wrap helped absorb the shock of the movements, and helped me cope with her weight by wearing her high on my back. Without the ability to wrap her for such an activity I would have never considered doing such a thing and would have missed out on an invaluable calming strategy. There’s no way I would have been able to keep up with such a rigorous activity otherwise!

In addition to the constant fast paced movements to feed what I now understand to be Lilah’s sensory seeking attributes, Lilah also started to develop a variety of sensory aversions as well. Lilah had struggled with texture aversions since young infancy, which became more extreme as she grew older. It started with excessive spitting up when her gag reflex was triggered during crying, continued into episodes of throwing up when attempting to eat solid foods, and transcended into skin based texture issues that caused her to become hysterical at even the slightest touch of clothing. As Lilah grew older she became less and less able to tolerate seams, tags, textures of clothing, far past the “normal” aversions toddlers and preschoolers experience. Unfortunately it’s not culturally accepted to take a naked two year old to the grocery store, even when you explain to well meaning strangers that the clothes appear to hurt her. And yes, I did take the tags out for her, and no I can’t do away with every single seam in her entire wardrobe.

In a woven wrap, however, I could ensure that no tag or seam touched her body. I could place the wrap around her in such a way that it was not readily apparent that my child was without a shirt or pants, and I could easily protect her skin from the elements. I could essentially dress my child without requiring her to interact with seemingly trivial things that made her life seem impossible. The wrap allowed me to provide my daughter with the constant input and motion she required, helped me to accommodate her desires to avoid texture based triggers, and enabled me to provide her with calming deep pressure stimulation by wrapping her tightly. Far before Lilah received her diagnosis we had at least one long standing coping strategy, and this helped my daughter push through her struggles and develop as a healthy and happy child despite the constant misfiring of signals and the fight or flight response that never seemed to shut off.

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Over four years later we now have a diagnosis and very detailed information on the scope of Lilah’s Sensory Processing Disorder. She is receiving occupational therapy on a weekly basis, and we are developing an arsenal of strategies to help her cope with and overcome attributes of SPD. Wearing my child has remained a consistent part of each day and helps achieve a great many of her goals. Instead of getting sucked into a multi-hour melt down, Lilah is becoming self aware enough to bring me a wrap and ask for a ride. Even at 40 lbs, thanks to my woven wraps I am able to accommodate my preschooler’s need to be carried, jostled, stimulated, all while I care for my other children.

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Wearing Lilah has served to help us cope with the challenges of her Sensory Processing Disorder, both prior to and after receiving a detailed diagnosis, and will continue to be an integral strategy for years to come. Lilah has not only become intensely attached to the practice, but it has served as a tool for coping and developing self awareness and self intervention. It has helped both Lilah and me strive for connection when we feel exhausted and torn apart by the challenges we face as a result of her special needs. This connection, fostered in part by wearing her, helped me identify and serve Lilah’s needs, which will be the foundation for her treatment and therapy in years to come.

Steffany Kerr is a babywearing educator and homeschooling mom to three children.

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7 thoughts on “Wrapping our way through Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. Wow. This is just wonderful. My 4 1/2 year old son has just been diagnosed with SPD, however, like your family, we have been learning to help him from Day 1. So many of the things you described sound just like our family’s experience. He spend most of his first two years wrapped close to me in a moby or sling. I wish I’d known about woven wraps then!

  2. This is AWESOME!!! I run a fb page called Parenting w/ Asperger’s Syndrome and I shared your article there. It’s incredibly valuable for people to see this type of useful information! My oldest son and I have AS, my daughter is borderline AS, and all of us have SPD. I used to wear Rachel A LOT because she HAD to be touching my body at all times. (Ohhhh, lordy, did that make cosleeping difficult. lol) Even now, at age 10, she’s a more physical child. Max’s & Thomas’ sensory input needs are not the same, and the weren’t in need of babywearing as much. I’m expecting another little one at the end of the year and I know I’ll be babywearing once again! The older kids are both old enough and strong enough to safely babywear, as well, and I might have them do some for the sensory input.

    Anyway, GREAT info, thank you so much!

  3. Wow, how touching. You are an inspiration to so many mothers, I’m sure, and to me. This gives me a lot to think about as far as patience and perseverance. Thank you for sharing your story.

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