Monday, July 12, 2010

Back to Basics -- the Playground

I think sometimes I get a little caught up in LM's diagnosis. OK, I get A LOT caught up in his spectrum diagnosis, specifically the Sensory Processing Disorder part. In my defense - an SPD parent needs to be super aware of events and environments. I'm aways planning ahead -- how can I prepare him for this party or what can I do in advance to calm him so we can get half way through a dinner out (at a well thought out restaurant that I have already scouted and approved of) ... I envy parents who decide last minute to just go out.

Tonight, last minute, I needed to get the boys out of the house for a while. My husband was trying to do some repairs and was getting more frustrated by the second as they were stealing his tools and just generally in the way. (This is actually the third night in a row he's tried to fix the door, the first time his "little helpers" were cute ... the third time, well, not so much.) So anyway - he needed some space.

So the boys and I headed to a local restaurant that we've been to before. It's a family place so no one looked twice as LM ate his entire meal lying on his back on the booth seat. (hey - at least he was eating. I'm picking my battles here!) I was pretty proud of myself as we finished up and all shared a frozen yogurt. This was a great outing considering it was unplanned and last minute and also at the end of an already busy day. Only problem -- we'd been gone less than an hour and I promised hubby two.

Now it was approaching 7pm. My kids are in bed by 8 so at 7 we're usually in the midst of bedtime routines. What the heck was I supposed to do with them for another hour? LM made the choice for us as we passed the playground. Playground!!! Seems like a "DUH, why didn't you think of that, Mom moment" , right? Well, I DID think of the playground, but it's usually a place I avoid like the plague when I have the 2 boys by myself. Especially this particular playground. It's a really big modern place which is great but makes it VERY popular. And there are two different play structures but they are about 25 feet apart. How am I supposed to keep an eye on 2 kids who inevitably want to go to 2 different places?!? And then there's all the sensory issues. There's mulch under one playground and sand under the other. If LM is wearing sandals he freaks because sand is going to get onto his feet. There's a danger factor too. LM has very little fear and very little sense of danger. He'll climb as high as the structure will go, and not be able to judge distance and just drop to the ground. Also typical of a child with SPD, he feels very little pain. He went through an entire BBQ with a broken collar bone and didn't tell me until that night when I went to take his shirt off - "Don't Mom! My shoulder's sick." Typical children will fall a few times and learn to be more cautious because of the consequence. There is no consequence when there's no pain, so it gets out of control quickly.

But anyway ... back to tonight. What the heck, this was a spontaneous night and we might as well go for it. In a word - it was AWESOME! The timing was perfect, it was late enough that there were very few kids around. This was great for a bunch of reasons - less noise, less energy, less congestion and a clear line of sight for me to stick with LM but keep a good eye on Bear. It was also not as bright as a full sun afternoon. Something about this pre-dusk sky was very calming. It had cooled off nicely also.

Normally at this playground LM does 2 things and 2 things only. One is sit on the swing and spin or get pushed, or more likely, do a continuous lap around the play structure. Over and over he walks up one ladder across the bridge and down the slide. Walk back to the ladder and repeat. 200 times. It's a little labyrinth and he enjoys it, but it's so methodical and so unsocial. Although he is very very verbal, when his senses are overloaded his language goes away. There is no attempt to make a friend, and no response when a child approaches. It upsets me more than a little and I'd like to intervene and facilitate but with the sensory overload and also watching Bear, it's never the right moment.

Tonight it was as if LM was seeing this playground for the first time. Figuratively and literally, he was seeing it all in a different light. Where there was routine, now there was intention. He tried each and every ladder, slide and climbing structure. Out of my own over-protectiveness I wanted to re-direct him when he headed to the rock wall, but I stood by and let him try. SO GLAD that I did. With all the determination he could muster he made 9 attempts to climb to the top. Never giving up he explored different routes. I gave him a little hint and guided his foot to the proper hold. Then he got it. All the years of motor planning in Occupational therapy paid off as he looked for each step, reached and climbed. And when he got to the top ... pure joy. Full on intentional eye contact with a look of joyful pride that I have never seen before. Knowing that he had conquered it once, he scrambled down and tried again. He had it mastered this time.

Our 2 hours were up now, but I was savoring the moment with my two loves. This park has a great walking trail so we walked a lap hand in hand and my little chatterbox returned. Bear was getting really tired and I picked him up for the walk across the parking lot. LM got a little clingy so I hoisted him up too. "You're so strong Mom." No, you're so strong little man. In more ways than one.

Sing and Play the Sensory Way!


  1. I can just feel that moment of joy when you saw your child attempt and then achieve such a thing!
    Soak up these moments they make all the other stuff... just float away!

  2. That's great. I understand the need to protect your child, and to force yourself to stop and let him do his own thing. It's so hard, but also very rewarding when he accomplishes a great task.

  3. I have twins with SPD and am so happy to hear another mom struggle with going out and being normal alone with them. The other Moms I know with SPD kiddos are SAHMs and don't understand what it's like to work all day and then have IEP meetings, therapist updates, and the challenge of feeling homebound.

    Thanks for sharing!