Too fast, too hard, too loud

Little Bear’s sensory needs can pretty much be summed up by the title of this post. Why walk if you can run instead? Why move things gently if you can slam them? Why say things quietly when you can shout?

Like many children who have experienced early neglect, Little Bear does have some quirks in his sensory system. However, as evidenced by the fact that it has taken me 51 posts to get around to talking about it, his needs are not that severe in the grand scheme of things. I’ve certainly met children who are more sensory seeking; whose whole environment needs to be changed to help them get the sensory input they crave; who cannot engage in everyday tasks in a functional way because they have to incessantly hunt for sensory stimulation.

Little Bear can function well enough in his everyday life, though we do notice that his sensory system is a little different at times.

I think we mainly notice it when we have to overuse the word “gently”. Little Bear finds it hard to grade his movements, always going in too hard. I constantly have to remind him that if he bashes his toys together they will break. Little Bear is what you would probably describe as “heavy handed” and is fairly prone to breaking things. It is no longer purposeful but usually due to accidentally pulling/ pushing/ pressing/ bashing too hard. He has written off many a felt tip pen and I have to buy the kind with an indestructible nib. We always have to consider the robustness of a toy before purchasing anything for him.

Little Bear often comes in with too much force for cuddles too, frequently head first. We must be used to dodging but if someone is caught unawares it tends to really hurt them whereas Little Bear hardly feels it. I guess all the head-banging he used to do may well have contributed to this. On a positive note, we have noticed that Little Bear seems to be getting more sensitive to touch on his head and does frequently cry now if he accidentally bashes himself (his head is currently at door handle height so he seems to bash it quite often) which is a far more ‘normal’ reaction than not really noticing that he’s injured himself.

The surprising thing is that Little Bear can be really gentle when he tries: he will stroke your face or stroke the cats with the right amount of pressure but during play or when he isn’t consciously thinking about it, his default is to crash and bash.

Little Bear seeks movement too and can often be found bouncing/ jumping/ hanging upside down. As soon as we get outside he has a tendency to run. We are quite outside-y as a family so Little Bear gets plenty of exercise as part of day to day life which probably helps to regulate his system. However, as I’ve got to know Little Bear better I have realised that when he starts bouncing and spinning all over the place it is not necessarily a sign that he needs more exercise. Sometimes it seems to be more of a self-stimulating activity that he uses when he’s tired or getting over-excited. It usually means that he needs calming and a rest. Giving him more movement at this point is likely to tip him further into over-stimulated territory.

Little Bear is more easily over-stimulated than your average child and when he gets to that point, he cannot yet bring himself back from it. There will undoubtedly be a period of him being generally out of control followed by a meltdown. As his parent I have to be vigilant of his level of sensory alertness and I have to intervene to stop him from getting to that point. I think it can sometimes seem as though I spoil his fun, especially when it comes to rough and tumble play. However, I can see him getting more and more excited and I know that he isn’t able to regulate this aspect of himself yet. He needs external help to identify when he has had enough and to find ways appropriate ways to calm down.

Little Bear is also pretty loud. I’m not sure I can totally blame his sensory system as Big Bear is one of the loudest children you could meet so he might just be following his brother’s example! However, Little Bear is loud within his own right. In his nativity play this week, he understandably struggled to learn the myriad of words needed to be able to join in with the songs but what he lacked in clarity, he certainly made up for in volume!

Interestingly for me, with my Speech and Language Therapy hat on, Little Bear is also too noisy in his speech. Most sounds in English have a voiced (noisy) and voiceless (quiet) counterpart. For example, ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds are made in exactly the same way in your mouth. The only difference between them is that to make a ‘d’ sound your vocal cords vibrate but for a ‘t’ they do not. Therefore ‘d’ is really just a noisy ‘t’. Little Bear replaces almost all the quiet sounds with their noisy partners e.g. he says “gat” instead of ‘cat’, “bear” instead of ‘pear’, “do” instead of ‘two’. It is one of the reasons his speech has such an unusual quality to it and why he is so difficult to understand.

Little Bear obviously has quite significant speech and language difficulties but I do wonder whether some aspects of those difficulties are due to the way his sensorimotor system has developed.

So yes, Little Bear has his sensory quirks and at the moment he requires external help with staying regulated. However, he is not the only one with a quirky system. A little bug bear of mine (rant alert) is that people often talk about “sensory integration difficulties” while seeming to forget that we all have sensory integration systems that are constantly working to process the different stimuli that come our way. We all need to process and respond to movement, touch, smells, tastes, sounds, visual stimuli and challenges to our balance and position in space. We will all have different preferences when it comes to each sense. Some people like moving fast and being upside down and consequently love rollercoasters. Other people hate them as they make them sick and dizzy. Some people love spicy food, the spicier the better; others prefer more bland cuisine. As a migraine sufferer I am particularly sensitive to light and changes to light and will find things that others wouldn’t even notice very uncomfortable.

Everyone has a sensory integration system and everyone’s functions a little differently. Although I have described Little Bear’s in a fair amount of detail, I don’t view it as a huge problem, just a part of ‘normal’ sensory variation. Little Bear’s is different to mine which is different to Grizzly’s. As long as everyone is getting what their system needs and not too much of the things it doesn’t, we are generally ok.

I think true Sensory Integration Difficulties exist when a child can no longer function at home or in the classroom because of their need to seek or avoid certain stimuli. That is when referrals and further help are needed.

Thankfully we are not at that point. However, if you meet us you’ll hear us before you see us; brace yourself, mind your head and don’t lend Little Bear your felt tips. Oh, and I’ll sit with my back to the window ta, the light is a bit weird.

 

Too fast, too hard, too loud

Moments to Treasure in March.

This week on the #WASO – weekly adoption shout out – the theme is Moments to Treasure. In amongst the germs and innumerable sick days, there have certainly been some of those. Here are my top three:

A successful supermarket trip

It is fair to say that when we first got Little Bear, he was not at his best in the supermarket or in fact, any shop. I know this is not an unusual story, I think many parents feel challenged by shopping with their little people but Little Bear did take it to the max. Even on a relatively calm day, it wasn’t a good idea. It was as though on crossing the threshold, some sort of spell was cast upon him, turning him into a wild creature with extra-specially-grabby hands.

I can remember one particularly stressful trip in the very early days when I thought it would be nice to have an easy lunch in the café first. We were all frazzled before we’d even got there due to Little Bear refusing to get into his car seat and a ‘scene’ ensuing as Grizzly lost his temper. This had evidently set the tone for the day as on arrival in the café, Little Bear didn’t take kindly to having to pay for his food first and launched his dummy at an old man’s head with the strength of a professional bowler. He continued by refusing to eat any of his food and throwing anything in sight onto the floor. The shopping part wasn’t exactly fun either. Thinking he would be more contained in the trolley, I hadn’t really factored in the long arms with the grabby hands on the end. He would literally touch and pick up anything within reach and most times it would seem, want to eat it. One of the first items he tried this with was raw chicken goujons. Strangely, I couldn’t let him eat them. He didn’t take kindly to my ruling, threw more things to the floor and started head banging the trolley. Grizzly and Big Bear couldn’t stand the screaming and wandered off, leaving me to it.

After that, I decided a better plan was to leave Little Bear at home while I did the shopping alone! For several months that has been my approach. However, I knew I couldn’t avoid it forever and that the real solution would be to teach him how to behave in shops. More recently I have popped in somewhere with him to get a few bits but never a full shop. On these occasions I have had to steer him away from the security man’s seat with all its buttons and cameras, prevent him from reaching round to fiddle with the till, constantly nag him to stay where I can see him.

It was a glorious day therefore that we managed a really successful shop and I didn’t have to tell him off at all. I made a deal with him that if he was sensible and stayed next to me he could walk around the shop. Any messing and he would need to sit in the trolley. He was straight into grabby hand mode, putting anything and everything into the trolley. I decided to be very clear about what we didn’t want and to send him off on little missions (within the same aisle) to get the things we did. He coped brilliantly and really tried hard to listen and to follow my agenda, not his own. He didn’t wander beyond the end of an aisle and only rolled around on the floor a few times. By the time we got to the tills, he knew he was tired and voluntarily sat in the trolley so I could unload and pack bags. A little well-earned treat for him to nibble helped him to stay there. I may have been sweating and feeling like I’d run a marathon but we were both so pleased with ourselves. Little Bear got truckloads of praise, from me and everyone else I told about it so hopefully next time will go ok too…

A lovely trip to the park

Little Bear and I frequently go the park on our own and we do usually have a nice time. However, on this particular March day, we had an extra lovely time. The sun was out and the promise of spring was dancing on the air. We had the whole park to ourselves to start with. We played Little Bears favourite game which involves me holding him while he grabs hold of the zip wire. Then he lets go and we spin around looking for it and I pretend I’m annoyed that we can’t find it and he laughs and laughs. Although I’m not a huge fan of the actual game because he’s getting heavy and the spinning makes me dizzy, I love how relaxed he is when we play. How carefree his giggle his. How much eye contact I get. How I can easily sneak my hand up his top and tickle his warm back. How I can plant kisses all over his face and make him squirm and laugh more. We were having a moment of feeling really well bonded. Or in the “love bubble” as Grizzly and I like to say.

A few minutes later, another little boy and his parents arrived at the park. Usually Little Bear is entirely disinterested in children he doesn’t know but on this occasion, Little Bear strode right over and started to play football with the boy. The other boy was younger and a bit hesitant with the ball. Little Bear tried to encourage him by saying “good one” when he did kick it. Later he put his arm round him to help him up the climbing frame. I could feel tears welling in my eyes watching him because it is only a few short months ago that I was wary of taking him to places with other children for fear of what he might do to them. And here he was, interacting beautifully, not only playing with somebody but being kind and encouraging too.

Toe nails

I know this is a random point to end on but usually when I cut Little Bear’s nails he screams the house down. I think it must be a sensory thing. He is very brave and lets me do it but screams all the while. However, on this occasion, he didn’t. I cut every single nail and there were no screams. Not even a whimper. I definitely prefer it that way.

 

I have enjoyed this week’s theme. I think it’s therapeutic to keep a record of all the little positives and to take the time to reflect upon them. I might do it at the end of every month.

Moments to Treasure in March.

Mischief

With eyes like saucers, elfin features and kissable cheeks, Little Bear is gorgeous. You can tell from his pouty lips that he will be handsome when he is a man. Incidentally, Big Bear is gorgeous too and one of my friends says she can envisage our future: two queues of women down our drive and me in the kitchen offering cups of tea, a conciliatory biscuit and a soupcon of counselling to the poor girls whose hearts have been broken by my offspring.

Little Bear’s gorgeousness doesn’t define him of course. When you look into those saucer eyes, you can see that he is filled to the brim with mischief. The composition of that mischief has changed since he arrived though. At the start it was a mischief with hard edges, bordering on delinquency. For example, Dad would say “come here” and Mischief would whisper “why not run the other way as fast as you can?”, or we might say “it’s time to get in your car seat” and Mischief would argue “how about you stay right where you are and press those buttons you aren’t supposed to touch and if they try to move you just hold the steering wheel with a vice like grip?”.

Little Bear’s mischief has also had a long standing friendship with Opportunity. So when Opportunity ventures “I don’t think anybody is watching you with that hose”, Mischief tends to reply “why not squirt the cat?”; or Opportunity might point out that he is holding a toy hammer and Mischief would say “seems daft not to hammer Big Bear’s Ipad with that whilst he’s playing on it”. Of course, Mischief then meets the most unwanted friend, Consequences. Again.

Along with Mischief and Opportunity, Little Bear is also directed by Curiosity and Impulsivity. So when we took him to a pet shop to handle snakes (Big Bear is something of a reptile fan – it wasn’t my choice of activity!), Curiosity evidently said “that looks like it feels interesting” and Impulsivity countered “so lick it”. I kid you not.

A similar dialogue must have taken place when Little Bear tried washing his hands in the toilet; when he threw some freshly laid eggs on the ground and trod on them; when he saw the open car window and was moved to throw his favourite toy out of it whilst we were moving; and on the many occasions when he just couldn’t stop himself from touching the stinging nettle or hot item before him that we have clearly stated will hurt him.

It is not Little Bear’s fault of course that Mischief and his cronies have come to such prominence within his character. It is really born out of too many long hours spent alone, unsupervised and trying to entertain himself. Not entertaining himself with toys or other age-appropriate activities but with switches, taps, hoses, climbing, keys, escaping, wires… all the sorts of things that suddenly weren’t permitted when us meanies arrived on the scene.

That initial mischief could not be left unchecked – it was dangerous and all too frequently rather destructive. In those early days, the mischief meant that Little Bear needed constant supervision.

Over time, Mischief has met Consequences innumerable times and is now somewhat of a reformed character. He’s still here thankfully. We wouldn’t want Mischief to disappear – he’s a big part of Little Bear after all – but he has mellowed. He’s now more likely to make suggestions such as “see those pants? Why not wear them on your head?” or “Mum is starting to look a bit annoyed, why don’t we wink at her?” or “why not try out one of those rude words Big Bear has taught you?”.

We like Mischief. And Curiosity. He’s a fabulous trait when pointed in the right direction. We still have to watch out for Opportunity – he provides a strong temptation and no doubt will for some years yet. Impulsivity has been helped by a bit of Experience – getting stung by that nettle or burned by that hot plate tends to give a stronger and more lasting message than any words of warning. Unfortunately for Little Bear, there are going to be many more lessons he will end up learning the hard way.

Other traits, like Common Sense are creeping in too. Little Bear has quickly learned some basic road sense, is sensible around water and even brought a pair of scissors I had accidentally left out straight to me the other day, instead of experimenting with them on the curtains or his own fingers.

Our level of supervision has reduced from 24/7 prison guarding to maybe a couple of minutes out of direct sight (as long as we can hear him. Silence is never a good sign – Opportunity might have come a-calling).

Well done little mischief maker, you really have made so much progress.

Mischief