Friday, September 24, 2010

sensational siblings

Several years ago, I read an article in which the author suggested it might be better for SPD kids to be only children. The author claimed that it is often difficult for kids with sensory problems to deal with siblings and the sensory stimuli that kids add to life.

Let's face it, kids are overwhelming. Anyone who has attended a birthday party for kindergartners knows this. Surround yourself with other kids and you are just begging to be bombarded with sensory stimuli, especially of the noise variety.

And Danny has never done noise particularly well.

Charlotte had already been born when I read this article, so it was too late for me to follow such advice, though I could see the wisdom in it.

It is very difficult to control the sensory atmosphere in a home when there is more than one child involved. Also, it is difficult to give a kid with special needs your undivided attention when it is....well, divided.

It was only two months before Charlotte was born that Danny was diagnosed with SPD. While I was dealing with night feedings and a major sleep shortage, I was also desperately trying to locate an Occupational Therapist who could help us. During that time, I attempted to start a sensory diet while also trying to determine out what was triggering Danny's meltdowns.

It was not easy.

So I can see how having only one child--especially when that child has SPD--would make life easier, both for the child and for the parents. Were Danny an only child, I could devote much more time to taking him to various therapists and actually doing the assignments they give us. I might even have the time and ambition to start a social skills group.

As it was, the first year of Charlotte's life is a complete blur of meltdowns (both Danny's and mine), therapy exercises and fatigue. More often than not, in those first months of Char's life, one of the three of us was crying about something.

So, it is perhaps surprising that we went ahead and had yet another child, who is now 18 months old.

It was a difficult decision, not one I took lightly. I worried that I was somehow cheating Danny and Charlotte of my attention, patience and time. I worried I wouldn't be able to handle it, that the stress would lead to a breakdown of some sort. I fretted that the extra sensory stimulation that came with an additional child in the house would be too much for Danny's system to handle.

And through it all, I worried that the author of that article was right. Was I just adding that much more chaos and sensory stimulation to Danny's life by having another baby? Would Danny's life be easier if he were an only child?

Well, yes and no.

Without a doubt, there would be less noise in the house, fewer people to disrupt our routines, and more time and attention for Danny. We'd be able to control the atmosphere in the house more easily, and we would probably have more money for his many therapy services, including speech, occupational, and even feeding therapy.

The thing is, though, despite all that, I think out of everything, out of all the interventions, IEPs, special groups and therapies, it has been Danny's interaction with his siblings that has helped him the most. He has learned far more from his younger sister and brother than I could have ever taught him myself.

While adding to our family was not easy, it has had the most unexpected rewards.

Because we aren't always able to control the kids, the noise levels and the sensory stimulation, Danny has learned to cope and adapt. He has to cope with other children; there is no choice. He is now learning that if he needs extra space and quiet, he should go to his room and ask to be left alone.

He has learned that we cannot always control the environment around us; we cannot always make other people quiet down or quit touching him. We are not able to cushion him against all the craziness in the world. So, he is learning to make his needs known, to be his own voice, and to be a bit more flexible. He has learned this from his siblings, who love him and do not judge him.

He has also learned compassion and empathy by watching his younger siblings and how they react to the world around him. There have been countless learning opportunities when Danny has witnessed Charlotte's sadness or watched how gentle you need to be to babies.

There have been times when Charlotte has been crying inconsolably and Danny has gone up to give her a hug. He has even suggested we pray so Tommy would feel better when he was sick. Would he have learned this type of empathy had he not had siblings? I am not sure. I do know, though, that this is not the kind of thing that I could sit down and teach him from a book.

Danny is learning how to share and compromise and play with others, just as he is teaching those same skills to Charlotte and Tommy.

So after all these years, I realize that there may be another side that the article did not cover. Sure, it is easier for kids with SPD to have fewer people in the house, but on the other hand, learning how to deal with unpredictable sensory stimuli is much easier to do when surrounded by those who love them.

And if there is one thing I can say unequivocally, it is that Charlotte and Tommy adore their big brother. And the feeling is mutual.


For more posts on SPD and Sensational siblings, please visit Hartley's Life with 3 Boys, where she is hosting an SPD blog carnival. Check it out!


Stimey said...

I agree with you completely. Jack's brothers have done so much for him. He is a sensory seeker, but a more easily controlled environment would probably technically be better for him. However, the gifts his brothers have given him FAR exceed any negatives.

Adoption of Jane said...

What a great post! You write very well. I love your last paragraph "And if there is one thing I can say unequivocally, it is that Charlotte and Tommy adore their big brother. And the feeling is mutual." Well said, and I can feel it through your words!

Susan said...

As much as we want to protect them from everything that causes them harm. I can't imagine a life without Meg and Nolan and having them together was probably the best for Nolan.
Could you imagine the first day of kindergarten if he was kept in a bubble of silence for 5 years?? NO WAY.

Denise said...

what a perfect post!
Amazing how PERFECT family life is...not perfect in the sense that it is constant joy and service and love, but that it really is a laboratory of learning in the bounds of love, safety, and non-judgmental people!

trydefyinggravity said...

Just had this conversation w/a friend of mine with one kid (non-verbal). She regrets not having a sibling for him because she thinks he would learn a lot, but she was worried about not being able to give him her full attention. I totally get that, and with my SPD son right in the middle I feel torn many times. But you're right - all my kids are learning tolerance, acceptance and patience (and coping strategies!). I love your post as always.

Ginny Marie said...

What a lot to go through after Charlotte was born! What a year that must have been.

I'm so glad that your kids love each other so much. That unconditional love is so important! During my last year of teaching, I taught a little boy with Asperger's, and he just loved his two little brothers. Being a big brother was very important to him, and I'm sure Danny feels the same way!

Tammy said...

Wow, your post could not have been more timely for me. I just started the process of adopting my second child (my first has SPD). I worried about those exact things that you wrote about, especially the inability to totally and completely control the environment. I know I will feel pangs of guilt those first times number two triggers number one.

But I too believe it is a trade off and the positives will outweigh the negatives. Thanks so much for validating what I have been thinking!

Jenni said...

I've heard from lots of parents of kids with autism and spd that having siblings is a wonderful thing - full time OT in the home.

Sarah said...

You summed it up---it is all about learning to cope. And coping is a skill that can't be taught but learned from being the trenches. It truly is amazing what siblings can give one another without even knowing it.

Training Happy Hearts said...

Glad you made the choice you did. Grace comes with challenges in good measure and "sibling therap"y works wonders!

goodfountain said...

There is no doubt that Sarah is the best 'therapy' that (my) Charlotte could ever have.

I'm so with you - siblings are great.

danette said...

Great post... my boys learn so much from each other, I'm so glad they have each other now and as they grow older.