Mr. Sensitive is a five year old with Sensory Processing Disorder. He lives in a world of too loud, too bright, too much touch and not fast enough or enough deep pressure. He hurts people by squeezing their arms too hard and irritates everyone by yelling too much. Add some serious anxiety to the mix and you get a very bright and sensitive child.
I recently read a description about trying to go through daily life experiencing all the dizzying sensations and noise of a roller coaster ride – that is Sensory Processing Disorder.
Mr. Sensitive has been seeing an occupational therapist (OT) for support. At one point we had three different OTs involved – now it’s down to one. At our first visit to help with visual integration and letter recognition the OT had Mr. Sensitive sit in a chair that looked like a cross between medieval torture device and an electric chair. High plywood back and sides with a strap to keep him in place, it looked horrible. I assumed use of the chair must have been a violation of children’s rights somewhere.
Mr. Sensitive was seated in the chair and a small table pushed in front, effectively hindering any free movement. He was trapped.
And he was completely focused for the therapy session.
Flash forward to this school year. Returning for his second year of kindergarten Mr. Sensitive started wetting the bed and developed an eye tic. The teacher reported that he was very distractible and inattentive. He struggled to learn his letters. He also stopped eating dinner and lunches came back barely touched. Breakfast was a chocolate protein shake, the only thing we could get him to eat.
Never a skinny kid, I was alarmed when I could see his ribs. A visit to our pediatrician ruled out some things and led to referrals for others. A psychiatric referral was pencilled in.
The only way we could get Mr. Sensitive to eat any part of a meal was to have him sit on my lap. Baby Dunk and Little Miss Adorable sat perched in high chairs and ate like fiends. Mr. Sensitive would nibble some of the food off my plate and then wiggle way.
Mr. Sensitive was refusing to eat any of the things he’d happily eaten during the course of his life. This was a child who ate a global menu: sushi and udon noodles, Pad Thai, curry in Little India and Caribbean roti. He’d have none of it. Any homemade meals were also rejected – his favorite chilli was pushed around, pastas uneaten, and soups went cold.
We tried all the favorites kindergarteners love – burgers, nuggets and fish sticks. We bought things we’d never purchased before. Mr. Sensitive nibbled at them. We tried ketchup tricks – dipping, happy faces, drowning. Mr. Sensitive decided he didn’t like ketchup anymore.
The only things he would eat were dill pickles, maple syrup, and rice with soy sauce (not together).
Hubby and I were never sticklers for proper dining etiquette, so Mr. Sensitive would eat standing up or sitting on my lap. Asking Mr. Sensitive to sit in his own chair (as he had done for years) led to Mr. Sensitive wiggling and falling all over. He’d get worried, stressed and not eat anything.
All the ‘first-then’ strategies in the world weren’t helping us.
One day, frustrated beyond belief I strapped Mr. Sensitive into Baby Dunk’s booster seat high chair. Supportive back and sides, moulded bottom. He was trapped. I slid the tray into place. Mr. Sensitive sat and ate an entire meal.
Palm slap to face.
Last year I got new dining chairs, a fake leather type common at big box stores. Cushiony, stylish, slippery, armless and non-supportive hell for Mr. Sensitive. Previously I had large fabric covered chairs with broad wooden backs and bottoms, a firm and very supportive design that was starting to fall apart on us.
We had been trying to get him to use the new chairs independently for a while, and had only in the past six months moved him off a smaller booster seat. We thought he was ‘old enough’ to use the chairs comfortably and believed it fostered age-appropriate independence. I guess his poor eating habits in them were masked over the summer when nearly every meal was a picnic outdoors.
Think of the different levels of intervention – behaviour, medical, psychological, sensory integration. Poor kid. We never realised it was the chairs themselves that were the problem.