Sensory Integration Dysfunction & Me

I am not an expert on Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID). I don’t know for sure what causes it. I possess limited knowledge of treatments. I don’t know how many people are diagnosed with it each year. But I do know that having three little boys with varying degrees of SID has made it really hard to keep track of clothes. Why? Tags stand zero chance of surviving a single night at the Walsh household. Those with SID hate tags. It’s the universal indicator if you ask me.

Before I continue, I’d like to give a quick shout-out to all those stores who have started selling tagless shirts. Without them, I am fairly certain I would have gone mad years ago.

The different manifestations of the dysfunction are evident in every person in my house. Typically, a person with SID falls somewhere between the Oh No! category (avoiding things that overstimulate the senses) and the MORE! MORE! category (seeking stimulation by doing things like running in circles and singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider at the top of one’s lungs). In preschool, Daniel had a hard time focusing if there was a fan running. Joey, on the other hand, once sought to investigate the texture and smell of a Great Dane by prying open its mouth and sticking his head right between its jaws.

This has made my life a lot of fun.

In trying to figure out the origins of my boys’ dysfunction, one need look no further than my husband and me. I have always been the Oh No! variety of person. I get easily overwhelmed in loud, busy rooms and feel anxious walking around bustling city blocks. I suppose in some way, my decision to live downtown for 10 years represented a kind of immersion therapy. I went to bed each night in the Viagra Triangle (Oak & State) listening to sirens and bar fights. Still, I was never really cured. I remember my old boss once tried introducing me to several important Chicago business leaders at a large corporate event I was managing. I was so overwhelmed by the music, the background chatter, and the crowds, that I somehow morphed into Dustin Hoffman:

Hi. I see you have a nametag. I got to get more nametags. Nametags are important. There are people walking in. They’re going to need nametags. Excuse me while I handle the nametag thing. What is life without a good nametag? You guys all have your nametags, right? Good. That’s good. Nametags are good. Nice meeting you. Thanks for wearing your nametags.

To this day, I will never understand why I wasn’t fired.

My husband, on the other hand can’t tolerate certain textures like sand. Yet the guy loves the beach. I will never understand this dichotomy. Once we leave the beach, Joe has to make sure that not a single grain remains anywhere on his person. I, on the other hand, could care less and will remain coated in the stuff until he makes me shower before bed. Joe hates sticky, and I still don’t know which of his shirts are dry clean only because the guy hasn’t kept a tag on in 25 years.

Still, Joe doesn’t drone on about nametags at parties. Because of that, he obviously has a lot more friends than me.

Danny spent the first four years of life throwing up any time he found the texture of a food too much for his sensory system. He was really good at it, too. By the time he was 20 months old, he would just walk right over to a garbage can and take care of business. This wasn’t merely spitting out distasteful food like a lot of kids do. Daniel was committing to full-out chunky spews. And he didn’t spill a drop anywhere.

We were so proud.

Daniel would also choke on heavily textured foods. With absolutely no air getting through, he would require the baby Heimlich. My husband and I got so good at performing it, that I feel a lifetime achievement trophy should be awarded us. Or at least a free breakfast at Denny’s.

Jack was easier. His SID coping device was music. As long as I sang, no matter how bad my voice, he was a happy kid. When he became stressed in the car, I’d just pop on a Broadway tune, and all was right in Jack’s world. He was a seeker with sound, but still had certain peculiarities and strong aversions to smells and textures. While my husband gave me immeasurable grief for the non-stop playing of Rent and Wicked to keep Jack happy, I credit those choices for his great ear for music now. At least that’s what I’m trying to convince the piano teacher to tell my husband.

Joey is a world-class sensory seeker who screamed through his entire first year of life. After that, he became a whirling dervish of motion and noise. Always moving. Always singing. Always touching and investigating the world around him.

Thanks in large part to the wonderful CPS therapists who worked with our boys during the early years, most people would never know what a rough start we had to parenting. Nobody would believe me if I told them I couldn’t get Danny out of the house for two months after the fourth of July because he was deathly afraid of “the kabooms” (fireworks). It seems inconceivable that my happy little Joey used to whine and cry for hours on end, day after day.

Of course there’s still the tag thing. I fear that one will always be with us.

If my silly little blog inspires one parent to seek therapies for children like mine, it goes on my permanent record and hopefully earns me a ticket to heaven. The treatments have made such a difference in our tagless little word of SID. An ounce of intervention now can truly alter a child’s path and positively impact his ability to focus and flourish.

It is the best present a parent can give this holiday season.

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