As a teacher, one of the biggest issues I had with parents was when I would reach out to them about their child’s struggles only to be dismissed. Sometimes the issues were minor like needing some extra help in a certain subject. Other times I had to broach the difficult subject of getting a child evaluated. But regardless of the issue, big or small, I was almost always met with a rebuttal. I’ve been criticized, yelled at, and argued with by parents. Some even went so far as to complain to my principal. And I never understood why. Your child needs a tutor..big deal!? You don’t want to get your child an evaluation so he/she can get extra support and the right environment to succeed…why not!? And then I’d criticize that parent for being in so much denial that they could not come to grips with the reality of what is best for their child. So, when I finally learned that I was going to become a parent I made the promise that no matter what obstacles my child would face I would NEVER be in denial. When I realized that my daughter was struggling, I began my crusade against my school district like a proud general wearing my cause on my sleeve. I did my research, I went to parent training, I began to share our stories. And it wasn’t until a few months ago that a big dose of my own denial smacked me right in the face and brought me down off the high horse I put myself on.
In reflecting on how I came to terms with my own denial, I notice that there were warning signs all along the way. Like the time that preschool director told me my daughter was just a spoiled, only child. Yes, I did get her evaluated anyway and eventually pulled her out of the school but what I never confessed was that I only pulled her out a month before school started. After those choice words from this director, I still paid her a deposit to secure my daughter a spot in the school for the next school year. I made all kinds of excuses like not wanting to pull my daughter away from the friends she made and that, in part, was true. But the real reason I did it was because in the back of my mind that voice kept telling me over and over that maybe she WAS poorly behaved because of our parenting and us letting her have her way. Maybe her issues didn’t run deeper than that. After years of the sensory based meltdowns I witnessed I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my daughter may have to struggle with something that might make life a bit more challenging. That voice of doubt has been with me from the get go. All the times people told me that my daughter was going through a stage and that she would grow out of it, I insisted I didn’t believe it but those thoughts were always in the back of my mind. And whatever steps I would take towards facing her challenges, that voice of denial made me second guess each and every decision I made.
My first dose of reality came in April, when my second, non-sensory child was born. As much as I claimed to know that my older daughter’s sensory issues weren’t the norm, I still in the back of my mind kept thinking that maybe all kids reacted to their environment the same way. However, unlike my oldest daughter who had her first sensory related meltdown at just a few hours old, my little one is not nearly as sensitive to her environment as her sister is. The day my little one was born, a fire alarm went off in the hospital. My husband, so conditioned to think that all children would scream their heads off at such a thing, ran to her bassinet and covered her ears. She never flinched. And for the first time I realized that I have been in as much denial as any other parent. And, since that day in April, the reality checks have come in abundance. Back in August, my older daughter came running up the stairs, telling me she wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese..that she wasn’t scared of it anymore. The smile on her face was priceless and the feelings of pride were beaming from her. So I got up, got dressed and got right in the car. When we arrived I bought 100 tokens because she was going to have the ultimate experience..a celebration of another sensory obstacle overcome. My first sign of trouble was that my daughter was silent and still the entire time we waited on line to buy tokens. Not a word..not a movement..and not at all like her usual self. She chose her first game, put one token in, and when the game finished she fell apart. She screamed, she cried, she threw herself on the ground when I tried to stop her from running away from me. My heart broke. She hadn’t had a meltdown like that in almost a year. So what did I think? That, yes, maybe she was “over it.” Maybe she no longer had Sensory Processing Disorder. I was in denial, and I was wrong. The hardest part, and the most humbling in my experience with facing my own denial, was watching her stand in the doorway when she said she wanted to leave. She stood there for five minutes just watching the other kids play. They were smiling, they were laughing, they were having a great time. And she wanted to be just like them. She just couldn’t. She couldn’t because she has Sensory Processing Disorder. It is not a phase. She will not grow out of it. It will be an obstacle for her that she will face for the rest of her life. She has made tremendous gains and she will continue to do so. But her issues with her environment will be something she will have to consciously deal with in every situation she faces for the rest of her life. And I, like every other parent on the planet, have been in denial all along. I have been in denial about my denial.
My final confession for the day has to do with the 99 tokens left over from that day at Chuck E. Cheese. Any normal person would have gotten rid of them but those 99 tokens are sitting in the cup holder of my car. They have been there since that day and they will stay there. Every time I see them I am reminded of my daughter’s SPD. Those tokens are a tangible reminder of my denial and everyday, when I get in my car, I see them. And it brings me back to reality. I realize now why almost every parent I have ever approached about their struggling child has been less than receptive to what I had to say. Doubting that your child is struggling does not make you a bad parent. In fact, I now believe just the opposite. Parents feel this way because they care too much. Our job as parents is to protect our children. We know that the world is not a fair place. Life is tough on its own and any added struggle that our child may face makes us want to shelter them from it even more. I know that because I am the same way. And I have a cup full of Chuck E. Cheese tokens in my car to make sure I never forget that ever again.