Seeing our children advocate for themselves is the goal of many parents. We teach them the rules of living in the social world and we teach them to question that which they do not understand.
The method to getting there is a little more labor-intensive with children on the autism spectrum and/or with ADHD. My husband and I often talk about taking the “scenic route” to get to these goals, as we often have to navigate our children’s various challenges along the way.
For neurotypical children, it starts early. From the first time that your toddler tells you “no!” they are well on their way to understanding self-advocacy.
(Image shows a young boy looking out a window)
This sometimes can take a year or even two years longer for some children, and may never happen for others- not in a standard way, that is.
Behavior is communication
Remember this phrase- it will get you through the tough moments, I hope. Behavior is the communication of need, my mother tells me after a lifetime of working with children and families in crisis. This is absolutely true, and the behaviors we see don’t always translate in a very obvious way. This is to say, when you see your child jumping on the couch all the time, this doesn’t always mean that they want to jump, but they are trying to communicate something…
If behavior is the communication of need, then the next step is determining what they are telling you through their behavior. A person with a sensory processing disorder has a need for certain types of movement and sensory input, and there isn’t just one type of thing that will fulfill that need.
(You may hear an occupational therapist refer to proprioceptive and vestibular input. These are connected to how we perceive our body’s position based on movement. If you have a sensory processing disorder, the information may not be reaching its intended destination in your brain, or may take longer to get there).
A “sensory diet” is a list of activities that is typically provided by an occupational therapist. This “diet” is designed to help your loved one with his or her sensory needs, and includes a variety of activities such as:
Using a body sock!
(Image shows a boy standing up inside a stretchy body sock)
Smooshing into a beanbag!
(Image shows a boy lying on top of a beanbag, pushing into it with his face)
Other helpful activities can include swinging or gentle squeezes. I like to think of it this way: for people with a sensory processing disorder, it’s as if they don’t always know where they end and the world around them begins. The information coming into their brain through their five senses is getting jumbled, and this input gives the brain confirmation of where someone’s “edges” are.
I picture a comic strip character: thick, dark lines outline the character. When you take those thick outlines away it becomes more difficult to tell where that person ends and where their comic strip world begins.
I may seem to be getting off topic, but I promise, it all leads to one place (remember- we’re taking the “scenic route” to get there).
Do you remember what I said about behavior? It’s all about communication- for our loved ones who take a different path to get somewhere it’s all about getting their needs met and helping us to know how they feel.
If you follow my blog you may have read the post about social stories. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here.
This past Sunday, we decided to try the trip to Target again, with a twist- this time we only went to Target. I went with WonderBoy, my husband, and the Teen. There’s a lot to be said for the three-to-one ratio.
(Image is a boy in a store, holding a stuffed animal against his chin. There are two people behind him, looking at DVDs)
WonderBoy stimmed the entire time we were there the previous week, but this time he decided to sit in the cart. This provided him some sense of security, and he was more at ease.
I reminded him of what we were doing: “We’re just getting a few items today, and we only have time to be in Target today, okay?” I found myself repeating these words on what felt like an endless loop.
“Just getting a few things today,” he’d repeat. Then he’d ask, “And then we will go to the mall?”
This has been the struggle- to get him through these social situations like shopping. “No, not today. Today is just Target. We will have time to walk around inside Target once we get what we came for, okay?”
I wanted to be sure that he understood what we would be doing today. “Remember, once we’re done shopping we will pay and then go out to the car with the things we bought. Then you can have a special treat!”
After finding the special treat of his choice, we paid for our items and made our way out to the parking lot.
With papa on one side of him and me on the other, we took a moment to congratulate him- “You did a great job in the store today, buddy!” to which he replied, “that wasn’t me.” That told me so much with three words. He continued by later telling me that he didn’t want to talk about it.
You may wonder why I connected this moment to a post about using behavior as communication. For our children, communicating how he felt about his success in the store involved more than simple words. He showed me through body language, and through his need for time in his sensory room when we were home.
That level of advocacy is something that makes my heart fly above the clouds. We were told early on that he might never talk. For him to be able to tell us that he isn’t in the mood to discuss this major success in his life goes beyond just the words themselves. It tells me that the day was hard for him, and that we’ll talk about it on his terms.
Behavior is the communication of need.