It’s October, and as leaves turn from green to rust, our family starts looking forward to November. For most of the country, Halloween has exploded in popularity among all ages. Now parents dress alongside of their children as buckets and pillowcases are filled with sweets. Parties are becoming more and more common, and everyone, it seems, in on the festivities. What used to be a sugary day for the kids when I was a child has exploded into a marketing dream. But for those of us with children who have SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), this time of year can be incredibly difficult, especially if she is a sensory-avoider (as opposed to a sensory-seeker.)
Not familiar with SPD? The way we explain it to others is that the sensory world is a little upside down. In our daughter’s case, light touch strongly bothers her, but she may not notice if she bumps into something. Certain sounds, especially loud ones, cause her physical pain. A scary scene from a movie or holiday display runs like a looped video in her head for days, even weeks. Many other kids with SPD notice seams in socks, and it drives them batty. Others can’t handle bright or flashing lights, while for others loud noises, such as fireworks, are exhausting. For some, all of the senses are affected, while for others, it may be just one. And for some kids, instead of avoiding these stimuli, they actively seek them out, loving extra tight bear hugs or blaring the volume of the TV. Regardless how each child is affected, SPD is very real.
Which brings us back to October.
When our daughter was young, she wanted so badly to dress up, but the visual stimulation of kids dressed in anything beyond a princess or a penguin often caused overload, as haunted imagery truly bothered her, visually. Add to that the standard Halloween playlist of mysterious noises in the winds, and now we have the ears assaulted. We’ve always taught her that she doesn’t have to like the scary side of this time of year, but it is good to respect the choices of others. Still, it was very hard for her, especially as she wanted to drop candy into pumpkin buckets, but the thought of a mask with fake blood running about was too much to handle. (Can you tell she isn’t aiming to be a surgeon?)
To be honest, even as I type this, I find this aspect quite hard to communicate well. We’ve had many people tell her to “get over it”, or “stop babying her”. Sometimes, it seems as one of those “you have to be there to get it” sorta things. For instance, over a year ago, my husband suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. In an instant, his world changed, which included his sensory world. For weeks on end, sounds were too loud, lights were too bright. He commented that he knew she struggled, but now he “got it”.
If you’re a mom wondering how to help your kid who is in a similar situation, let them know it is ok if they don’t want to go trick-or-treating, or to the party, etc. Sometimes, our kids worry they will let us down, and make their decisions based on that. Also, our kids do grow and change. My daughter still has SPD, but she has been able to overcome some of her personal challenges and has grown immensely. In other words, next year may be different – keep looking up!
(If you want to know more, please head on over to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation for more info. Marla Roth-Fisch has a great book, Sensitive Sam, which addressed it from a child’s point of view.)