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This Is What a Typical Day Looks Like When Your 3-Year-Old Has Sensory Processing Disorder

sensory processing disorder
Image source: Kristen Jules

My bright-eyed 3-year-old, Nate, is afraid of bouncy houses, bathroom hand dryers, and anything that generally makes an annoying sound. He’s very specific about food textures, temperatures, and touch. He has sensory processing disorder — a condition in which his brain has trouble receiving and responding to the senses. Whether we’re biting a sandwich or holding a pencil, successful completion of an activity requires the processing of sensation. But, when a child has trouble processing signals, it causes a neurological traffic jam of sorts — and it wrecks havoc on our family’s ability to function.

So, what’s a typical day like?

6:02 am: “Mom, Nate pooped!” my older son, Grant, says. I get out of bed and grab the wipes, noticing that I’m down to my last two. Code red. Must take a trip to the store with both boys. I’m already tired just thinking about it.

7:02 am: “I want my milk warm!” Nate instructs, opening the microwave. I take it out, forgetting that he likes to do it “by himself.” He screams for three minutes, which I ignore — based on the advice from his developmental pediatrician. I then give him two choices. 1. Take the milk and drink it or 2. Go to bed. I repeat my original choices until he chooses to drink it and hug him, praising him for his ability to deal with change.

sensory processing disorder
Image source: Kristen Jules

7:38 am: “I’m making a minion face,” Nate proclaims while smashing his cereal into tiny pieces with a fork.

8:40 am: “I need to vacuum. It’s a mess!” Nate announces as he grabs the handheld vacuum off the counter.

8:46 am: “Mom, Nate’s playing with the vacuum again,” Grant tattles on his baby bro, who’s now smacking him with it. I attempt to take the vacuum from his tiny vice grip. “But I helping!” Nate screams.

8:48 am: “All done!” he announces, nearly smashing the handheld vacuum onto the ground. Like a mommy ninja who’s able to avert disaster with quick reflexes, I grab it before it makes contact.

sensory processing disorder
Image source: Kristen Jules

9:03 am: Nate spots a tube of new toothpaste. “What flavor is this?” he asks excitedly, as he spreads his fingers through a mess of pink gel. It’s aptly named Strawberry Smash.

9:04 am: I clean up the mess as Nate proceeds to stick both hands in the dirty sink water. Time to buy some Drano, I think, adding it to my mental checklist.

9:30 am: The house looks like a bomb went off. I have not had a chance to do my hair or put on any makeup. And company is coming over in 30 minutes. I better haul it to the store.

9:45 am: “I don’t want to sit in the cart!” Nate screams. We compromise and I let him sit in the basket part. “Don’t squish the food,” I instruct. He squishes the food.

sensory processing disorder
Image source: Kristen Jules

9:55 am: Company has arrived. “I’m just down the block,” I exclaim. Luckily, my boyfriend understands why it’s hard to get out of the house and doesn’t complain. I’m always late.

10:05 am: I forgot the wipes. I head back to the store, leaving him with all three of our kids for a few minutes. Nate attempts to “bite” his knee while I’m gone. It’s one of the ways he shows love.

11:15 am: We’re on our way to a Boy Scouts awards dinner and Nate’s chewing on his sweatshirt. When we arrive, it’s soaked.

11:30 am: Nate proceeds to log roll down a cafeteria floor. “Just great,” I think, imagining all the tiny microbes that he’s now covered in. The preppy little boy I left the house with now looks like he’s been rolled in birdseed. His blonde curls that I combed to perfection are now frizzy and strewn haphazardly to match the wet collar.

11:36 am: Nate proceeds to knock over one of the 50 raffle ticket bags, spilling some tickets onto the floor. Whoops.

12:00 pm: It’s group skit time and Grant’s been practicing for weeks. Nate now has to use the bathroom. Someone turns on the automatic dryer, prompting screams. “Too loud,” he cries, running for the door.

12:12 pm: I rush back into the room to catch the tail end of the skit. I try to praise Grant, telling him how awesome he did.

12:46 pm: Next, Nate takes a toy car and lays on the floor, attempting to stick it in a set of electrical sockets. I give him a strong “No,” and take the car away. Screaming ensues.

1:30 pm: The most exciting part of the dinner starts, the reading of the lucky winners for the raffle baskets. “Mom, are you paying attention to my numbers?” Grant says, as I’m scolding Nate for throwing another little boys water bottle in the garbage. “I am,” I say, running out of patience.

1:50 pm: I’ve now given up on my limited technology rule and hand Nate an iPad. Of course, mine isn’t equipped with Wi-Fi and he’s not amused, throwing it on the floor.

2:29 pm: As I’m finding Grant for a group picture, Nate runs into a hallway. Another mom brings him back. “He was heading for the stairs!” she says. I know, lady! 

3:50 pm: We arrive home and I tell Nate to take a nap. “NOOOOOOO NAAAAAPPPP!” he yells as I close the door to his room. He attempts to scale the toddler gate but eventually gives up and falls asleep.

5:46 pm: He’s awake and hungry. “Want some pizza?” I ask? “NO PIZZA!” Nate whines, opting for a turkey sandwich instead. It ends up everywhere but his tummy.

6:42 pm: Nate grabs a squeeze pouch and eats most of it, throwing the rest on the floor haphazardly as pureed blueberry splatters against the wall.

6:56 pm: Bath time! Nate “swims” around in the tub like a fish for nearly 45 minutes. He would stay in there all day if I let him. Watching him happily splish-splash around the tub is the only “break” I’ve had all day.

8:01 pm: I lay down next to my playful 3-year-old, brushing his curls with my fingers and chatting about our day. Push it doooooooown!” Nate cries out as I attempt to leave his room. He likes his blanket tucked around him a certain comforting way, though I can never do it exactly right.

By the end of a typical day, I’m mentally, physically and emotionally tapped out. Having a child with sensory processing disorder is akin to living life inside of a tornado. Each day is a challenge, but also an opportunity to help my son thrive and overcome his anxieties and fears. I’ll continue to bring him inconvenient places with the hope of socializing him. But next time, I’m bringing headphones and splurging for the Wi-Fi.

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