This is not a side of Sensory Processing Disorder that I like to talk about. In fact, it’s one I’ve barely mentioned here on the blog. But, I would like to shed some light on it, for the few of us that have a child that is aggressive. And, just an FYI it is a smaller percentage of kids with SPD that are aggressive. Not all kids with SPD are aggressive. Whether that is towards objects, kids, parents or even themselves. This needs to get talked about as parents.
I’ve lived far too long hiding this fact and being ashamed of it. I’ve vaguely tried to share it with other people only to hear “I would never let that happen in my house.”
Having a child that is aggressive is the scariest part of this disorder. It’s what pushed us to get help at such a young age for our daughter. It has isolated us. It has made us feel like we are the only ones in the world fighting to keep our daughter and us safe.
My goal here today is to share our experiences with you and remind you that you are not alone.
Our first encounter started around 9 months, as our daughter started head banging. She would literally seek out hard surfaces and as she was crawling on her hands and knees she would hit her head into them. I quickly learned to see her going to do this and I would swoop her up and she would hit her head against my shoulder. At night, she would hit her head around the top of her crib repeatedly. This wasn’t just a bump, this was a full force head into object as hard as she could, movement. Nothing broke my heart more than seeing my BABY doing this. Every doctor we spoke with said this was NORMAL. What I now know was that it was sensory seeking. She was seeking that input trying to feel something. She did this until she was 2 ½ years old. It was hard to see it as sensory seeking because it would often happen when we were redirecting her or when we said no. I now know that as her way of coping and trying to comfort herself as she didn’t get what she wanted.
After the head banging, she moved more into being destructive towards objects. She would seek out things to literally destroy. She would throw things, knock anything and everything down. She broke her door off the hinges at 3 years old. This phase probably lasted the shortest. Again, it often was in response to sensory stimuli for example turning on or off a light was almost like we flipped a switch in her to seek something to destroy. She was trying to cope with what was causing her pain (the light).
And then she turned towards us. She would hit, kick and bite.
Here’s what I want you to know about all these scenarios. During all of these phases of aggression, there was no way of getting in, now way of getting through to her. She was shut “off.” There was no way to calm her down. There was no way to hold her. We fought to keep her and us and everything else safe. Her brain would literally shut down and there was nothing we could do. This wasn’t a child just being naughty. This was a child whose brain was functioning abnormally and she was literally fighting her way through life.
These episodes weren’t just short minutes. These were hours and days and weeks and years. It was from the time she would wake up until the time she went to sleep. It was constant.
As parents who have done so much to try to help our daughter we were exhausted that it was such a struggle to get help. Daily life was such a challenge. We went from one exhausting day to the next in a fog of survival and crisis. We lost hope again and again. And we got up every morning to face the same battle again. We may not have always been standing strong it was more like crawling on our knees begging God to get us through.
There’s no easy answer for how or what made it better. We still have some aggression but it isn’t the out of control aggression that we used to see. I am convinced that development is a major part of the decrease in aggression. As she got older it changed into being more manageable. As her vocabulary and ability to talk increased the aggression went down. However, I did learn that she could put all of that energy that she was using to be aggressive into screaming. It is always changing!
Here’s what I want to tell you if you are living in this:
- The most important thing you can do is have a team of people to help. Seek out a really good psychologist with knowledge of Sensory Processing Disorder.
- Look beyond the behavior. I know how hard it is. You see a child doing a bad behavior like hitting and you think it needs to be changed. But often with our kids there is more going on than just a bad behavior. Look at what is happening before and after the behavior happens. Think of it as a defense mechanism. We see behavior, when our child is really fighting something we can’t see.
- It’s not your fault. Dear parent- I know you feel like it is all your fault. I know you feel like you should be able to fix this. But your sweet child’s brain operates a little differently. You are doing a good job. Keep going and don’t give up!
- 95% of the population will never understand what you are going through or get it.
- After experiencing years of living in absolute crisis, I know that it does get better. I know that it cycles in seasons and some seasons are REALLY bad. But, hang on for the good. Hang on for the better. Remind yourself how much you absolutely love your child and pick yourself up to fight another day, because your child desperately needs you to.
From one desperate parent trying to help her child to another, hang on. It is worth the fight. It’s worth every awful moment. It’s worth every bruise you get and every hurtful word you hear. Your beautiful child is worth it. Don’t give up. Fight for hope everyday.
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