My two big worries approaching this intervention were Mike’s sensory sensitivies and vomit! Believe it or not vomit is a big part of Mike’s sensory problems. As well as the senses we are familiar with, for example sight, hearing, touch; our ability to self-regulate also forms part of our sensory world. This time last year I was having real problems with Mike being sick after every bedtime feed and it was due to him reacting to the sensation of fullness (or in his case, having food in his tummy).
From being very small, Mike hated the smell of perfume, sunlight, loud voices, the unpredictable sound of children playing, the sensation of his cotton bed sheet and being touched. I could go on and on, but I guess it’s clear he disliked most things in the world around him. The place he found most comfort was his first stage car seat and we’d often sit him in his chair and put the TV on (day and night at one stage) to help him drown out the world around him. It was that, or he would cry and cry inconsolably.
When Mike was tiny we’d turn up to his appointments and I’d generally have a bemused consultant staring back at me, as I reported all of this. It was terribly frustrating as you expect doctors can fix everything, but this was just a situation you couldn’t medicate (we attempted medication for reflux at one stage, he was so sensitive it made him vomit like nobody’s business and he then refused anything for days) and there was quite obviously no “quick fix”. Doctors and therapists told me to “follow him” and “do what works” so we did, and my little family became very much led by this tiny boy who didn’t like anything.
Raising a hypersensitive child relies on a lot of forward planning and organisation. Basically one parent stays at home with Mike, the other goes off with big brother. We gave up putting Mike in to most new situations because he would get so upset and unless there was a good distraction i.e. TV or somewhere to climb, then we couldn’t take the risk on taking him places. It sounds extreme, but new situations would lead Mike to become hysterical. Cuddles or touch made him worse and in a new environment there was no way we’d be able to console him. We just got on with it though, as staying home with Mike and having some kind of coping strategy was better than none and we’d been there, and that was more miserable than this. You try to count your blessings (desperately!)
Speech and Language Therapy gave us good advice really early on, and that was messy play. We did fun structured sessions every day but after some time, messy play became central to everything we did at home and I got to learn so much more about our frightened little boy. Over time we realised his passions in life were home and family (he loves scooting round the house exploring, tickles, kisses and rough play with his brother!) but his eating never progressed. He just became more confident at managing around new things, which helped us live a tiny bit more as a family.
Mike’s sensory sensitivities are really inhibiting, lots of tastes and textures make him wretch, smells make him gag; sights make him hide his face and some people just terrify him! I’ll never forget having a fringe cut when he was 14 months old and he wouldn’t look at me for a day, because I looked different. It’s funny I guess, but living like this all the time really takes its toll and hugely impacts family life.
As we progress with Clarissa, Mike is just tolerating things (painting with his feet, swallowing pureed chicken, getting wet and song time at soft play). It’s amazing that by using the technique, he gets past the things that upset him somehow. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer fearful he’ll catch something and end up poorly, maybe it’s because he now has a full tummy, maybe it’s an age thing; or maybe just actually, we now have the right skills to confidently parent and lead him.