My son is getting older. He reminds me of this every day. Lately he’s in a big hurry to become an adult. He wants to make a ton of money, move to New York City and live on the penthouse suite (because it's the highest part of the building). He has great ambitions. He wants to be an architect and design big buildings (specifically the tallest buildings in the world). I’m sure it’s hard for many moms to watch their children grow up. We know as parents that we have to give our children more freedom and independence, but when your child has sensory differences, it all becomes a bit more complex.
Ben is at the stage now where he functions in what I like to call his “sensory comfort zone” for a good deal of the time. We know what it takes to keep Ben regulated and, more importantly, Ben knows what he needs to do for himself to help himself. He comes home from school, puts on his music, sits in his game chair, turns on his back massager, and decompresses from the day. When we go to a big event, like a birthday party, we know to have down time the rest of the weekend. We've learned a lot through trial and error, so most of our days are smooth sailing...until life throws a curveball.
Most of us know to look for negative triggers that can cause a meltdown, but it’s easy to overlook a different kind of trigger. I’ve learned that when Ben is eagerly anticipating an event, this is a time to watch carefully, because if that event doesn’t go exactly the way he envisions in his mind, it can produce a meltdown. I think he lets his guard down in a way, because he is so excited for this special thing, and when trouble comes it catches him off guard. It’s almost like he’s offended that something so special and dear to him wouldn’t go the exactly way he expected. The more excited he is about the event, the larger the potential meltdown.
I was reminded of this during the last week of school, when I designed a special project for my class called Geometry City. I’m a teacher and I am blessed to have Ben as one of my students. If I’m being completely honest, I designed this project with Ben in mind because I knew he’d LOVE it. The children were to design their own city (measuring perimeter and area to get the math part in) and then they could build their city in 3D. Ben was stoked. The excitement built. Finally the day came when I put out the materials for building. My classroom was a buzz with children working. I became involved with helping other children so I didn’t notice the agitation growing in Ben as he tried to make his buildings stay together. He was attempting to fold cardstock and stack the rectangular prisms higher and higher. As the building toppled to the ground, he lost it and began talking angrily. Once I realized that a few soothing words and offers to help weren’t going to do it, I left the class with my assistant and took him into a quiet room. I had Ben lay on his belly on the floor as I rolled an exercise ball over his back as I was taught to do years ago by an OT. We talked and I continued applying deep pressure, and eventually he calmed down and we were able to go back in and finish the project. I kept a closer eye on him for the rest of class and he was able to recover and take direction and support.
I want Ben to get to the place where he can be completely independent. I want him to recognize those triggers in his brain and body and be able to calm himself down. I have to remind myself of how far he’s come- that he is able to self-regulate for over 90 percent of the time. This gives me hope that one day he’ll be able to do it without me.
Ben has grand plans for his adulthood. At nine years old he is already building his future up in his mind with great excitement. I want him to go for his dreams but I also want him to be supported and ready so that he doesn’t crash and burn. Whatever the future holds, I know that he will always have a support team there to assist him along the way. In the meantime, I’m trying not to blink and to enjoy him as he is today.
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