Here is the truth. It was all dreadfully fake.
I proceeded to slump down in a pathetic ball on the living room carpet. I was exhausted. Spent. Left completely drained by the holidays. Gone were the smiles and the happiness from earlier. There was not a single thought in my head. I was done.
And then it hit me. I loved school. I truly did. “Readin’ and 'riting and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick.” Chalk boards, crayons, scissors, paints, songs, dancing, jungle gyms - all working together to keep my boys occupied without me being involved in any way, shape or form. It quite literally was bliss.
I flashed back to the day - around the time Hein-Chris turned two - that our neurodevelopmental paediatrician warned Hein-Chris might never be able to attend a mainstream school. True to form I visited the few schools nearby that offered special needs education, and dug deep into research about home schooling and how best to prepare for being mommy and teacher to my eldest. I was ready, boy. Completely energized. Completely committed.
I was still very much enforcing my “keep outings short, but frequent” policy at the time, and attending Toptots, ClamberClub and what not on a weekly basis, but realized that Hein-Chris needed more exposure to the world. Much more. I sensed I had to push his boundaries even further - no delaying.
I cannot imagine where the motivation came from, but I decided to enroll him in a nursery school right after his second birthday, and around the time he was first diagnosed with SPD. It must sound crazy, but I believed my child needed to get out of the house every morning, and go somewhere he could watch and engage neurotypical kids. And be far, far away from Mommy and her constant reassuring presence. I just felt it in my gut. There was no mistaking it.
Going from being a staunch believer in the benefit of keeping your child with you at home for as long as possible, to trawling Ballito for a suitable nursery school, was an unbelievable mind shift. I wanted to resist, but was being egged along by an absolute belief that Hein-Chris desperately needed this. I literally felt that if I missed the boat, that would be it. He would remain curled up at home, unable to engage with the world without being paralyzed by anxiety.
I must have visited every nursery school in the Ballito area, settling on Little Turtles Nursery School after a dear friend recommended I take a look. As I walked in, I realized that it was ideal for Hein-Chris. You just know, right?
I discussed my decision with Hein-Chris’ neurodevelopmental paediatrician, and she asked for photos of the school, and a little questionnaire to be completed.
After much deliberation, Little Turtles Nursery School it would be.
I braced myself for the worst.
Day One was a nightmare. By ten I was called to fetch Hein-Chris.
Day Two was a smidgen better. I received no calls. But every day for the next six weeks would be torture for all involved. Hein-Chris would scream blue murder at drop-off every single day, but my resolve remained strong and I adhered strictly to a “drop-and-go” policy. I simply deposited him into Zandi's arms (Zandi is a caregiver at Little Turtles Nursery School), told him I loved him and would be back after story time, and vacated with stealth. No returning for a quick last hug. No looking back. No waving. Just a fierce conviction that this was the best for Hein-Chris.
By the end of Week Seven, Hein-Chris was quietly watching his classmates - all ten of them - getting on with it. He wasn’t partaking much, but was certainly observing and learning. Granted, he did spend six weeks plastered to Zandi’s hip (bless her), but my boy was at school from eight to twelve daily - Monday to Friday.
I could not believe my eyes. The impossible had been achieved.
The chosen nursery school offered the following:
Little Turtles offered a great balance between mental and physical stimulation, and Hein-Chris flourished. Take note that he started attending five days per week, right off the bat. I was advised that he would transition much easier if he knew exactly what to expect every day of the week. A three-day school week (either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or three consecutive days per week) would cause confusion in the mind of my darling boy who needed strict daily schedules. It would make the whole ordeal even worse I was told. This proved to be great advice for Hein-Chris.
Looking back, I am not sure to which extent this early exposure to nursery school helped Hein-Chris transition into a mainstream school, but against all odds my son is attending such a school today, and Little Turtles Nursery School - from age two - may very well have been our saving grace.
Would I recommend to everyone to put their kids into a nursery school at two? No. Did it work for Hein-Chris? Yes. Would I consider home schooling if the need arose later? Of course. In a heartbeat. Is Hein-Chris coping at the moment? Yes. Absolutely yes. How big is his current class? Twenty-one six-year-olds.
I was still on my back when it came to me that I needed to commit these thoughts to paper. Bear witness to Hein-Chris’ story. Encourage other mommies to take the plunge, but only if they firmly believed that early exposure to school was best for their children with SPD.
Believe me, if you have any doubts whatsoever, it will not work. Spare yourself and your child the anguish. It is a gruelling affair that requires firm conviction.
I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Hein-Chris needed to go to school.
To my mind, the longer I waited, the more difficult it would get. I remain certain that by the time he was three, introducing him to the schooling system would have been too late. His mind would have been closed to a change of that magnitude. The transition would have been twice as horrendous.
I had my coffee. It was cold. I am used to it though. I haven’t had a hot cup of coffee since 2013.
I washed my hair, put on my make-up, and prepared to fetch the boys from school. The afternoon was going to be rough. Something would break. Someone would get hurt. No-one would share a single thing, and constant fighting would be the order of the afternoon. There would most certainly be bruising and hair-pulling and mud.
By eight pm I was broken from exhaustion. All that kept me going was the knowledge that there would be school the next day. And the next day. And the next.
I am quite convinced this means I am a dreadful mommy, but for the time being, I truly do love school. I really do. I prepared for bed humming happy thoughts of school days past.
"…you were my queen in calico, I was your bashful barefoot beau, And you wrote on my slate, ‘I love you, Joe’, When we were a couple o' kids.”
"School Days" is a rather popular American song written by Will Cobb and composed by Gus Edwards in 1907 (this according to a variety of web searches). It tells of an old couple looking back with wistful nostalgia on their childhood in their early school years.
An accurate account of Tuesday, April 16th 2019
Hein-Chris has journeyed a world away from his infant self. He has worked very hard, every day, every week to be able to engage with a world that is filled with sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and movement. He is a warrior against Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and my role is to provide him with whatsoever reinforcement he needs.
While writing the intro was temporary tonic to my soul, it is not quite accurate - unfortunately.
Drop-off at school this morning was unequivocally disastrous. I came home, crawled into bed, and bawled my eyes out. Why does everything, literally everything, have to be a major issue with Hein-Chris? Can’t he relent for one single day? Just one day where I might be spared the emotional torment of dealing with SPD. Just one.
After six gruelling years, is that too much to ask?
Grade R pupils at Hein-Chris’ school are expected to walk to class unaccompanied. Every day, twenty confident little people bounce through the school’s front door, greet the principal, bound down the stairs, rush down the passage, and fly through their classroom door. The twenty-first child does none of this. His name is Hein-Chris. Hein-Chris enters the school clinging to Mommy, doesn’t greet the principal, fights his way down the stairs and through the passage, and silently enters his classroom, Mommy in tow. The only Mommy. It’s lonely to say the very least.
I tolerated this for the first term, but during school holidays I discussed with Hein-Chris that I would still accompany him all the way to his class, but that he would need to take the last three steps, from the outside corner of the classroom to its door, on his own. It is not fair to his friends that his Mommy gets to enter the classroom door.
This was discussed and re-discussed all holiday long. Our plan was solid. There would be no glitches. I had it covered.
How was this possible?
Three steps. Really?
I do realize I should have compiled a social story. Taken a photo of the car park, the entrance to the school, the principal, the stairs, the passage, the corner of the building, the classroom door, and one of me with a big thumbs-up. I should have pasted all these to A4 pages, and written sentences below like “This is where Mommy parks every morning”, “This is our lovely principal, remember to say hello”. “These are the save stairs and passage we walk down every morning”, “These are the three steps you have to take on your own to your classroom door while Mommy watches”, “Mommy will be so proud of Hein-Chris when he can walk three steps to his classroom alone”. I should have had each page laminated and bound into a little book. I should have read it to him twice daily for the past month. That is what I should have done.
As it turns out, that is what I didn’t do.
I never imagined it would be necessary. I cannot fathom that all this is needed to convince a six-year-old to take three steps. Three steps without Mommy, with Mommy watching. Am I asking too much? Is this supposed to be such an incredibly draining ordeal?
But it is. It is SPD in full swing, making life a living hell. Hein-Chris is clinging to me for dear life, tears streaming down his face, screaming for me not to leave, begging me to walk him to the door. Three steps.
I wait for Hein-Chris after school. He comes skipping out, huge smile on his face. He had a lovely day.
I listen to all his stories as we head home. He jumps out and races through the front door, screaming excitedly.
I follow. One, two, three steps and I’m home.
It is safe to say that Hein-Chris is not a natural party-goer by any stretch of the imagination. The sensory overload that is typical of kiddies’ birthday parties is way too much for my darling boy, and I can spot the tell-tale signs of a subsequent total sensory malfunction a mile away, barreling down on me like the steam train to Tsitsikamma.
Needless to say I am not a fan of kiddies’ parties. In fact, scenes from parties past will haunt me until my dying day. While I am being a little over-dramatic here, I need other mommies to understand the greatness of the disastrous collapse inside a child with SPD attending a party, in stark contrast with the enjoyment experienced by the neurotypical child. There is quite literally nothing a kiddies’ party can offer that will not present as immediate and eminent danger to the child with SPD, irrespective of whether Mommy is hosting the party, or has kindly accepted an invitation from an unsuspecting other mommy.
The first three years after Hein-Chris was born were certainly the worst when it came to bracing for the impact of kiddies’ parties. Strangely enough I reckon the worst of the lot were his own first, second and third birthday parties. It would take hours preparing snack buckets, wrapping party favours, and ordering every conceivable, theme-appropriate decoration from PartyNet, only to have Hein-Chris crumble into a screaming ball as guests arrived. Yes, there were smidgens of enjoyment here and there, but for the vast majority of these parties Hein-Chris would be hiding in his room, steadfastly refusing to leave this darkened space. I would watch, in utter disbelief, as invited kiddie guests would have the time of their lives while my darling boy would have none of it.
While it broke my heart to learn my son had SPD right after his second birthday, it did make dealing with his fear of parties several metric tons easier. At least I had an inkling of what I was dealing with and could prepare myself mentally for the inevitable.
While there are not many photos of him, he gets all excited about the décor, and the birthday cake, and which friends attended, and whether Oupa and Ouma were there. In an unbelievable way I get to see the enjoyment I so wished to see in him on the day, today. I am relieved that I never had to explain to him that he did not have proper birthday parties at that age. Via the photobooks, he has been able to generate his own memories of these parties, and to his mind, they were great. He will light up talking about the cupcakes at his Mickey Mouse party, or the Barney t-shirts him and I wore at his second.
I would like to add a note on attending those other mommies’ parties. These too quickly became the bane of my existence. Having run the gauntlet, I made peace with the fact that kiddies’ parties happen, and Hein-Chris had to be exposed to each. I recognized that these were in fact a brilliant exercise in sensory integration for Hein-Chris.
During the party, as soon as I noticed that steam train hurtling my way, I would leave almost instantaneously with a polite “goodbye and thank you” (and a sincere thank you note to the hostess the next day).
I tried not to exit with remarks about the difficulties of raising a child with SPD or rolling my eyes to demonstrate my exasperation. Kids pick up these cues in a heartbeat, and it sets you up for an even worse experience next time. The same applied with regards to offering a busload of apologies. I didn’t. I remained polite and as gracious as I could holding a child in the throes of a raging fit, then waved, smiled and exited as quickly as humanly possible.
All this, only to face the same music the next time the phone beeps, and WhatsApp cruelly announces that I have been added to a group with a merry old party icon. Yay (no exclamation mark required whatsoever).
I never relented though, always hoping that the next time would be better. And it was - gradually. Hein-Chris (very) slowly learnt that parties were not as scary as they seemed.
Today we still accept all birthday invitations, and it is only in the last 6 to 8 months that Hein-Chris looks forward to, and enjoys, the parties. I still have to attended the party with him and leave when he starts getting over-whelmed, but it’s a journey, and Hein-Chris and I are committed to the ride.
And thus shall be the title of the children’s book I might write one day, in the form of a social story. It will help prepare kids for their first visit to the kinesiologist and be filled with lovely illustrations (by an illustrator with a flair for colour) and an easy-to-read font. It’s fun going to the kinesiologist, right? Right.
Hein-Chris has been attending educational kinesiology sessions for approximately eighteen months. He started as a result of my concerns regarding his severely low emotional and social intelligence which impacted his ability to self-regulate and had a detrimental effect on his self-esteem.
While Occupational Therapy is essential in the treatment of SPD, kinesiology offers a more holistic approach in treating body - and brain (especially emotion) - via the combination of an array of interventions including (but not limited to) cognitive behavioural therapy (such as play therapy), colour therapy, brain gym, and vision gym.
While IQ (intelligence quotient) in its traditional sense i.e., how intelligent you are, is certainly novel, emotional intelligence (EQ) far outranks it when is comes to happiness, success and self-appreciation now, and later in life. To my mind, EQ should be cultivated from a very early age. We tend to send our children for extra maths, science, and language lessons, but fail to address their need for exercising self-love, self-respect and healthy social integration (i.e., being able to kindly but firmly engage with their peers, their superiors, and those that look up to them, in a manner that does not offend or self-degradate).
In my experience (and this will be different for everyone), I consider educational kinesiology of great value when it comes to developing EQ. EQ comes about when a child is able to engage the left and right brain simultaneously when confronted by life and its challenges. This all plays into self-confidence and good self-esteem, both of which I consider of utmost importance, as the child with SPD (sensory defensiveness) grows. The child with SPD is typically prone to weak self-esteem due to his/her unique physiological and neurological design, and it is precisely this neurological design - if you will - that can be addressed and corrected by educational kinesiology.
Hein-Chris’ very own educational kinesiologist, Nasreen Khan, was featured in “Get It Ballito - Umhlanga” recently. She explained that educational kinesiology is basically the process of teaching the left brain and the right brain to work together at the same time. She added: “Some people are left brain dominant and others are right brain dominant. If you are more dominant on your ride side, for example, you may struggle with logical rational thought”. I attach the article, “Brain Games”, for your perusal.
Source: Get It Ballito - Umhlanga, April 2019, “BRAIN GAMES”, Text: Leah Shone (firstname.lastname@example.org), Photographer: Samantha Basson (email@example.com), Page 16 and 17.
My focus in writing this blog post was of course my own child’s challenges, but there are clearly a wide range of childhood concerns that Nasreen deals with daily. In this vein I would highly recommend Nasreen. My child’s self-esteem and self-confidence have sky-rocketed in the last eighteen months. There remains work to be done in terms of developing his EQ, but we are getting there one “Q” at a time.
How to get in touch with Nasreen:
Contact her on 082 923 1714 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is such a lovely lady and adores the kids she councils. It’s amazing to watch.
I never intended to blog about eating insofar as it pertains to infants/children with SPD. From all the information I have been able to glean over the last six odd years, there does not appear to exist a one-size-fits-all when it comes to getting those darling sprouts eating. It's literally every mommy for herself.
However, it is one of the top concerns parents have along with (1) getting the correct diagnoses, (2) getting the infant/child to sleep (nightmare!), (3) potty training and (4) aggressive and other anti-social behaviour. I would go so far to say that questions relating to these five topics find their way onto SPD Support Pages every single day - no exceptions.
But I digress.
I realized that I had to broach the issue of eating in the context of SPD even if just to confirm that it is an intolerable ordeal for any parent. While you might be able to convince/bribe/force/coax an neurotypical infant/child to eat a variety of foods, the infant/child with SPD will not be swayed. In most cases they simply cannot tolerate the smell, taste and texture of the food, making it physically impossible to consume. It is not an act, and parents with neurotypical infants/children will not get it. I don’t blame them. I can hardly understand it myself, but it is a stark reality in the life of an infant/child with SPD.
While there is nothing quite as satisfying a tucking a well-nourished child to bed at night, parents dealing with SPD seldom - if ever - get to experience this pleasure. I am gutted to admit that I cannot offer a shred of advice that will magically change this state of affairs.
Here is my experience with Hein-Chris.
I will add that if Hein-Chris was over- or under-weight, I’d take him to visit his paediatrician without delay. The same course of action would apply if Hein-Chris (1) was tired and lethargic during the day while his peers were bouncing off the walls, (2) developed dark circles under his eyes, (3) had any difficulty whatsoever with bowel movements, (4) has not expanded his food choices in the next two to three years.
And that’s that. The blog with no advice. Nice.