Summer is here. It is sizzling hot outside, it rains everyday (at least here is South Florida) and the humidity is over the top. Yet somehow, children find ways to have a good time and enjoy the time off from school. It is time to go to the beach and the pool!
For parents with sensational kids, it is a bit different because we know the challenges that come along when school is over. From my experience, I can tell you that I LOVE having my kids at home for the summer. I’m one of those lucky moms that get to stay home with her children. So I can honestly say, that I like having them home. They don’t like going to summer camps, but they enjoy attending “Mommy camp”. But the transition into summer is not always so easy. There are several factors to consider: the change in their daily routines, not the same structure at home than in school, saying good-bye to their teachers, not seeing their classmates every day, getting used to being home every day, understanding that every day will be different and that we have to deal with the activity limitations due the weather, and the list can go on. In our case, we can add the fact that we just moved to a new house a little over a month ago, and that we are expecting our third child in early August. So that adds a lot of changes and uncertainty to an already overloaded situation.
Trust me…it is not as bad as it sounds! Why? Because my sensational boys have come such a long way since they were first diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). FACT: Changes are definitely difficult and challenging, but our SPD kids have to learn that change is part of everyday life. So I work with them in how to cope and adapt to those changes. We talk a lot, and I mean a lot! Their reactions and behaviors to certain situations are not always the right ones; they can sometimes become explosive, overloaded, wired or have meltdowns. And believe me, being eight months pregnant doesn’t give you the amount of patience and energy you need all the time. However, I try to understand what are the triggers for those reactions, so that I can help them identify their queues.
This year, I had to set their expectations right from the very beginning, so that they would understand that this time “Mommy camp” would be different. They are used to me being the “camp coordinator” and have activities planned out for at least 3 days a week, along with other parents. I was really concerned with not being able to meet their expectations this year, and how they would react if we couldn’t do as much. It is harder for me to drive around for long periods of time. I also have to be careful with the heat, or I’m too tired…but to my surprise, my boys have been very understanding. They are so excited about our family growing and having a new sister, that the new “camp structure” doesn’t bother them as much. And fortunately, being in a new neighborhood, also has meant having new friends to play with every day. My kids are still having fun and playing a lot, even though this summer is different. Therefore, the recent changes have been very positive in our lives.
As part of the summer festivities, we celebrate 4th of July, Independence Day. Almost every town around the country has an event planned, people gathered at different places, BBQ smell is everywhere, music, kids running around, people screaming with excitement, fireworks popping loudly, lights shining bright amidst the smoky skies…this is what I call a sensory overload waiting to happen! Sound familiar? While most people are enjoying the special occasion we are worrying about how our sensational kids will cope with it. But at the same time, I would suggest that we all find a “happy medium” so that we don’t miss out on the celebration. We just need to make some modifications, and of course, set the expectations right from the start, with our kids and ourselves. We have to be aware that their sensory systems will be in a state of alertness and anything can be a trigger, and that at the end of the night, with the sensory overload added to the exhaustion, a meltdown is possible. However, encourage your child to participate in the celebration, one way or another. You can print out 4th of July themed coloring pages and/or make arts & crafts projects to decorate your house.
In our family, our oldest enjoys the fireworks but is bothered by the smoke while the youngest one is terrified of them and can’t stand the noise or the smell. We buy some “kid-friendly” fireworks at the grocery store, and Daddy lights them up for them. Usually I stay inside the house with our youngest, but he can still see them. We also buy the little popping things (I believe they are called “Pop-Its”) that you throw on the floor and they snap. They both enjoy playing with them. We also try to watch the big fireworks but not on location. We either go to a friend’s house, or park on a street nearby, avoiding the crowds. Sometimes we just drive around and watch the skies, looking for fireworks in a distance. We have also watched them on TV. These are only a few alternatives that allow us to celebrate the 4th of July with our boys, avoiding most of the sensory triggers while still enjoying family time.
SPD is here to stay. We know that, and we ACCEPT that. It is a continuous journey that allows us to grow as parents, and personally too. As time goes by, you will see the differences in your children. I’m a true advocate of occupational therapy (OT) and the huge benefits it brings to our sensational kids. But OT alone doesn’t work. We have to continue that effort at home too, taking it one day at a time and teaching our kids (and ourselves) how to have a “typical” life. That is one of the biggest challenges we face. However, as I’ve said many times, we need to focus more on the little steps and the progress our children make every day, rather than concentrating on where they should be in the long run. With time, they will get there. Allow yourself to celebrate their triumphs, no matter how small, and you will see fireworks too!
Enjoy the summer!
REBECCA GONZÁLEZ is married and a lucky stay-at-home mom of 2 boys that have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). She spends her days doing the best she can to make life easier and more enjoyable for her family. Rebecca is an SPD Foundation Parent Connections Host and the founder of Let’s Talk SPD, which is a support group in South Florida for families with children with SPD.