For the last 18 months I’ve been on several mini missions. The journey towards an autism diagnosis doesn’t often hold many wins along the way. To me it was so important that I felt the relief and confidence in one or two major wins, just so that I knew that this never ending climb towards the top of our disability mountain (Everest, you’ve got nothing on a family fighting for a diagnosis believe me) could have some positive twists and turns along the way.
I decided that whilst the NHS argued amongst themselves about which referral was the most urgent, and whether or not we were worthy of a placement at a SEN school, I was going to concentrate on finding whatever it was that helped to calm the kiddo and prevent a sensory overload. Why? Because it was practical. It was trial and error sure, but it was doable. It mainly involved trawling through every sensory toy on the market and seeing if the kiddo found some calming solace in the vibrations, the bounces, the chewing etc.
Over the months I have spent hundreds of hours reading sensory processing books, reading blogs, browsing websites for ideas (and then working out how I could do that idea on a budget, obviously), just so that I felt like I was doing something. And at one point I was absolutely convinced that that one object, that one sensory product was out there. That one toy that would allow us to sleep whilst kiddo was calm. That one toy that meant we could have a semi normal existence. And why not? Millions of other families had done the same and found their sensory saviour. It was my turn next, it had to be.
As the months passed we built up quite a collection. And a huge credit card bill too. But nothing ever fully resonated with the kiddo. Nothing was his saving grace. Why? Because his sensory profile was just too complex. As soon as you calmed him, he became over stimulated. As soon as you excited him, he became over stimulated. I gradually lost hope as even the Occupational Therapists admitted they were at a loss as to how to help him. Every article I read about a sensory success and a family who had found a way to help their child cut like a knife. Not because of jealousy (well, a tiny bit of jealousy), but because I had failed. I had failed to help my child process our world without pain.
And eventually I gave up. After all, the credit card will only stretch so far…
Then one afternoon, everything changed.
Those who follow my blog will know that kiddo has a real interest and affection for trees. Nothing gives him more pleasure than spending a day weaving in and out of tree trunks, picking flowers and running through the dewy grass. This afternoon in particular was heading for a rather extreme meltdown. My fault entirely, I had slightly altered our routine (epic fail). So before heading to the car I thought I’d give us one more chance to bounce back and save the remainder of our time out. So I headed for the trees.
As we approached, the change in kiddo was quite remarkable. The screaming almost immediately halted when he saw his climbing patch. I saw his shoulders physically relax. And he smiled. The banshee style screaming had gone and a mysterious air of calm had surrounded us. How had I not noticed this before? Because in the past, meltdown had meant home time. It’s like a family military operation, “Go Go Go!!!” as you weave in and out of disapproving looks and gazes and head towards the safety of home. But not today, today my gut had taken me a different way. And my god, it was working.
As I sat and watched my child transform into an angel, beautifully spreading his golden glow amongst every person he passed, I was suddenly very humbled by nature. After all these months, after spending all that money, all my son needed was nature. God’s green earth. His love and appreciation for the simplicity of a bank of grass to run down was just inspiring. The change in his temperament as he gently rested his head on a tree trunk. I had been looking in the wrong place all this time.
My head was suddenly filled with all the advice professionals had been filling my very confused brain with. All these artificial gadgets. Now don’t get me wrong, for some people they work unbelievably well, and I’m a little jealous as it’s not exactly easy to pop a full blown tree in our car or kiddos bedroom at night… but for those of you out there like me. For those of you still searching. Ask yourself, are you looking in the right place? Is the answer right there in front of you everyday? Don’t be afraid to think outside the sensory toy box. A trip to the trees will be on the cards for us most days now. Just to regulate and restart kiddos tired sensory system.
I definitely got caught up in the commercial and “official” sensory advice that comes with being part of the healthcare system. From now on, my eyes will be open so much wider.
Thanks for reading,