My son has had sensitivity issues pretty much since toddlerhood. Light bothered him so much as a barely speaking 2-year-old that we took him to the eye doctor, convinced that something was seriously wrong. His eyes were perfect, but his screams in the car over the sun hitting his face while we were driving around running errands, was not.
Fast-forward a few years, and my son has shown other sensitivities to sounds, and stressors in his life. He’s never been officially diagnosed with sensory issues, but we’ve talked many times to his pediatrician about his sensitivities. He can frequently be seen wearing sunglasses indoors when he isn’t feeling great, because the light in our house is just too much for him.
We saw his sensitivity manifest in other areas of his life as well — like how he refused to even put his face under water at swim lessons until about 8 years old. When he finally did, I felt a huge relief that he might be able to conquer his fear of water, after all. It was enough to make me feel extremely emotional that first swim lesson, when he finally realized that putting his face under water was not going to hurt him.
That’s why I understand how the small victories of children with sensory issues can feel like HUGE accomplishments — and how watching your kid’s efforts finally pay off is enough to make a mama cry.
Sara Baker, a writer and mom to two, knows that feeling well, too, and recently shared one such small victory on her Facebook page. Her son August is 5 years old and has autism and sensory issues. But he just accomplished a major victory while getting ready to go back to school that has left his mom more than proud.
“I have been hyper aware of restrooms for almost five years,” Baker shared in her Facebook post. “The noises of flushing toilets and hand dryers especially are too much for my son to handle. They scare him, overwhelm him, can be physically painful for his ears, and he has had intense anxiety over them since he was a baby.”
She continues on to explain that she often avoids public restrooms by “holding it” when they’re out, just so her son doesn’t have to endure the loud sounds and unexpected noises that often come from hand dryers and toilets flushing. That is, until now.
In her post, Baker recalls how she was recently touring her son’s school to help him get ready for September, when they stopped into the bathroom to check how loud the toilet flushing would be (something any parent of a kid with sensory issues will understand).
While in there, Baker said her son was staring at the hand dryer after drying his hands with a paper towel, and she asked him if he wanted to try it out. While she fully expected him to say no, Baker explains what happened next:
“He placed his hand underneath and I braced myself for the meltdown, shocked that he had done anything and waiting for the fallout.
There was none.
He liked the blue light that glowed on his skin. He giggled at the way the force of the air moved the flesh on his palms. I started crying, staring at my son feeling fine and even laughing at something that has been a source of fear and anxiety for him for almost his entire life.”
Her words really hit home with me, as they reminded me of the feeling I felt the first time my son ever willingly put his face under water at a swim lesson. Our kids’ victories, no matter how small and insignificant they might seem to the outside world, are huge to them. But these victories are emotional for the parents as well. We are their biggest cheerleaders, and we want to see them succeed.
While all parents can relate to the joy that comes from watching their child overcome fears, Baker’s story is especially touching for parents who fight a daily battle alongside their kids with sensory processing issues. The world can feel like a big, bad, scary place to these kids, and it’s something that can make the simplest outing feel impossible on a day-to-day basis.
Speaking with Babble, Baker explains that she wants other sensory processing parents to know that they should try their best to be patient with their child and themselves.
“It’s normal to have some low moments,” she shares, “because it’s a lot to deal with and you are going to find yourself thinking ‘Come on, it’s just a tag,’ or losing your temper when they scream by your ear for the third time when a third fire truck drives by your house. You’re learning along with them.”
And I think that’s great advice for any of us struggling with an aspect of parenting that is difficult.
Baker also explains how hard it is to raise a child with sensory processing issues, adding that her biggest challenge is, simply “trying to help him navigate a world that was built for most people, but not him.”
“Having to anticipate that there might be noises and textures wherever we are going that could be uncomfortable for him, or the fact that if he is stressed already he’s going to be even more sensitive,” she continues. “There’s just a lot of planning and preparing involved.”
Baker says that she initially shared August’s story with others simply because she was proud. But the positive messages she’s received in the last day alone have been overwhelming.
“The best part has been other parents contacting me because they either feel hopeful that their child with sensory issues might hit a milestone like this, or [they’ve shared] that their child’s behaviors are similar to August’s and they’ve never heard of sensory processing,” Baker explains. “I remember how it felt the first time I read about it and how happy I felt that everything suddenly clicked. I’m glad that other parents might find some answers and relief for their family.”
Baker ends her post on a powerful note, writing:
“Seeing him adapting to the world around him and trying new things are small victories, but this journey makes them feel like Olympic-sized wins.
My son used a hand dryer today. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
The most beautiful part of her post is that regardless of what your kid struggles with in life, being proud of our kids overcoming their fears is something every parent can relate to. After all, we are their biggest fans.