When people ask me if Angel is on medication, I usually assume that they are wondering why the hell not! Most people ask this question because Angel is very hyperactive and I am sure they think that some meds can take him down a notch.
I know realistically that if we had no choice and Angel’s behavior began to affect his ability to function in a major way, we may have to consider medication. I know many parents have been faced with this and have done what they had to in order to help their children cope.
During Angel’s Autism evaluation, I spoke to his neuropsychologist about his hyperactivity. She thought he was too young (at four) to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She believed that he was overcompensating through his behavior for his lack of communication skills.
To help Angel and everyone around him, she recommended a 1:1 paraprofessional (para) to shadow him at school. I was glad for the para because on more than one occasion, Angel’s preschool teacher mentioned that it was hard to handle him in a class of 12:1:2.
Angel’s neuropsychologist also recommended that he gets 10 hours per week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy at home. The goal was to see how this helps Angel and then we would re-evaluate his needs when he is a little older.
The last few months of ABA have been great for Angel. Whenever his special education itinerant teacher (SEIT) comes over, he sits still for most of his sessions. Whenever he gets distracted, she redirects him. She is fantastic with him!
However, Angel is back to business as soon as she leaves. This is when the squealing, running, climbing, and jumping begin. So, yes ABA helps but we still need more.
A few months ago, I spoke to my sister who is an occupational therapist about Angel’s behavior. She told me about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and how some children have to be put on a sensory diet to help them cope with their environment. She had not evaluated Angel but from observing him in our home she believes that he exhibits some behaviors of SPD. I have read that SPD is common in people with Autism.
After we spoke, I started doing research and requested books on SPD from my local library. Angel has not been officially diagnosed with SPD but as I read, it explained a lot. It explained why he always chews his shirt and why he loves crunchy foods like apples and popcorn. It explained why he is always jumping and bumping into stuff. It explained why he gets hyper when we are out in public and on the subway. It explained why he doesn’t like cutting his nails. It explained why he likes playing with water but can’t wait to get out of the bath tub during bath time.
According to WebMD, “Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.” These senses include the five that we are all aware of, such as smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. In addition, we have our *vestibular and *proprioceptive senses, which I strongly believe are where a lot of Angel’s sensory issues are.
Angel has had to wear a weighted vest during some class activities and therapies to help him sit still at school. I had never heard of a weighted vest before and was alarmed when I learned that this therapists and teacher were putting one on him at school. Then, I did some reading and learned that it can help calm him and help with his proprioceptive input. The dots were beginning to connect.
I recently attended a session at YAI on SPD and Social Skills. This session was a part of their Autism Family Support Series. When I shared my story of how I am always asked if Angel is on medication, the occupational therapist (OT) stated that before a behavior can be adequately addressed the child’s sensory issues have to be handled first. The OT mentioned that it can be difficult to expect a child to sit still if he has little awareness of his body in relation to the space around him.
Now we are looking more into developing a sensory diet for Angel. We just bought him a very big and comfy red bean bag chair, which he loves crashing into and doing somersaults over. We also ordered him a weighted lap pad to help him sit still during dinner time and in a few weeks, homework time.
It is a work in progress because there are still his vestibular issues to look into. I intend to work with the OT at Angel’s new school to come up with a sensory diet. If this can help him function, then we are in luck. If not, then we will have to take it from there and consider meds.
Please visit sensorysmarts.com to learn more about SPD and to complete your child’s sensory profile.
Does your child have any sensory issues? Does your child take medication? How did you make the decision to start your child on meds? Has it been helpful? Please share your story. I look forward to hearing from you.
* Proprioceptive input (sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that lead to body awareness) can be obtained by lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects, including one’s own weight.
*Vestibular input (the sense of movement, centered in the inner ear). Any type of movement will stimulate the vestibular receptors, but spinning, swinging, and hanging upside down provide the most intense, longest lasting input.