I believe that all children have special needs and all children learn in their own methods and need to be treated like individuals. I too, understand, having a background in Occupational Therapy, that some children have extra special needs that can make learning and living more challenging. I have come to really appreciate this more from an insider’s perspective over the past year.
When I began homeschooling my first child, I did so in part because of his personality. He learned to read early and enjoyed everything academic. He would become interested in something and would focus on his interest to an extreme for a long period of time. He attended a morning out preschool from the time he was one until he was four. I saw how he was not learning anything “academic” in his “preschool” but he was there for part-time day care and not for preschool. Having a “late birthday”, November, made him older than his preschool peers and combined with his early reading and writing abilities, exaggerated the fact that he was not learning anything in preschool and that kindergarten would not be a good fit for him. Homeschooling him was and continues to be “easy”.
Before you stop reading or shout things at me through the computer, let me tell you about my second child. My daughter, born 4 years after my son, came into the world where her older brother was reading and writing. He liked to tell her how to do things and do things for he. She is an independent child, always has been and resisted her older brother’s attempts to show her anything. She wanted to do it for herself!
I did not realize how unusual my oldest child’s attention span was or how calm he was, until my daughter was born. My son walked at 16 months and was often content sitting doing one activity for a long period of time. My daughter had more of a “typical attention span” and walked at a year and got into things my son never even attempted to do, like pulling off the child safety latch with ease or climbing on chairs. She was busy and outgoing and liked being with people. We soon saw her extroverted nature which can be a challenge to my son and I who are introverts (although we fall closer to the mid-line of introvert extrovert, her energy overwhelms us.)
Life became more challenging when she wanted to participate in activities but could not because she was not yet “5” as if there is something magical about that age. We started her in dance when she was 4, something she wanted to do since she began to talk, which she did at an early age. And once she was 5, she could begin participating in more homeschool activities like PE class and other things like her brother does.
By this time, we were embracing a more and more unschooling lifestyle and way of approaching learning. She was slower learning to read than her brother, but I trusted in the process despite her frustration and in time she began reading. And amazingly (or not so) by about age 7 was reading at the same level her older brother was at that age. But other things came slower, like writing, which is still slow. She can make letters and enjoys the act of writing but writing words is a challenge. I have struggled with how best to approach other things with her in our homeschooling life Although I embrace unschooling as my approach to learning, I have always been open to doing what works for my children. I believe that my son’s style of learning more closely resembles my own and so his journey of learning has appeared easier to me and I have been comfortable with our path.
I have attempted a variety of things with my daughter but likely did not give things enough time, as she seems to always resist anything I put forth. Over the years, I believe I have become hesitant to even try things with her because she has such strong resistance to my ideas and efforts. I have seen hypersensitivity issues with her but have always figured she is a more “typical child”.
It’s crazy how I can have a degree in Occupational Therapy which includes an education with pediatric development and disorders and yet miss signs in my own children. My oldest had very delayed gross motor skills but it took me some time to really see it. And my daughter has had many issues that I still do not see clearly.
A few years ago, she began over washing her hands and we thought it was my talk with her about germs. Then we discovered that reading the book “The Velveteen Rabbit” had instilled her fear of germs and we thought letting her know that was written years ago when things were not clearly understood (they threw out all his toys because the boy was ill) and talking about this would eliminate her over hand washing. It lessened at some point but continued. About a year or so ago, when she was 7, we began to see irrational fears, like her food being poisoned, to the point of her not being able to eat and crying. I attributed some of it to learning to swim and doing new things in swim lessons.
But looking back there was more. She really had a difficult time getting out of the house to go anywhere including dance class which she loved. She craved being at home more which seamed odd for the girl who used to ask “Where are we going today?” and craved being with other children. There were other fears too and difficulty sleeping at night.
Add to that a new baby brother born a month prior to her 7th birthday (January 2009) and an over sensory experience being a part of his birth, and us missing the signs or not really seeing all that was going on with her, and by early 2010 things exploded. Around March of 2010, her bedtime difficulty turned in to refusing to sleep at night and crazy unreasonable demands to have the wood floors fully cleaned our replaced before she would sleep. Somehow it all blew up into a germ obsession centered around her room and soon she began showering daily and then could only go in her room if she had just showered and there was a ritual with towel placement from outside the shower to her room.
On top of all this, an already discerning eater, she began refusing to eat most things .At first we allowed her to pick what she would eat, taking her to the store where she picked all white flour, dairy and sweet items. This never felt right with me as I have always been a “health nut” when it comes to eating and feed my family whole grains and limited diary for her as a young child when I saw signs of intolerance to dairy (something I personally experience as well). We have improved our eating over the years to less refined foods, less processed and minimal artificial ingredients in food. Looking back, with the birth of our third child, we were eating more processed foods, more eating out, and more sugar.
To add to the craziness, I took her to two alternative health practitioners that I had been going to and trusted and both suggested eliminating sugar and diary. Her obsessive, compulsive nature took this to hear and she agreed to going off all sugar, fruit included. And so without much knowledge (and looking back on this, not a very bright idea) we both went cold turkey off sugar! Only later did I realize and read about sugar withdrawal which only compounded her behavior issues that were already over the top and out of control.
Those early months were a crazy time. I read and researched enough to see that she likely was experiencing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I also knew a grown woman with OCD as well as the mother of a teen age daughter with OCD to feel confident that this is what we were dealing with. And yet, I actively avoided labeling her. I saw no benefit in giving her that label, even though my husband and I used it among ourselves and with others but not with her around. The experience was surreal. Difficult to describe and yet a true lesson in living in the moment. We learned what to do and what not to do the hard way, after holding her down, to prevent her from hurting herself and others and to prevent her from stopping my husband from leaving for work or my son from going to an activity. We bounced around from engaged, reflective parents to angry, resentful controlling parents who just wanted our life back, and our child back! The entire experience disrupted life for our entire family. My oldest, now 12 was resentful of her behavior and how attention seeking she seamed and h ow much time it took of us, and therefore time away from him. And the baby was just a year and began imitating her angry outbursts, fits of rage, and physical behavior. He became frightened with her and surely could not understand why his favorite playmate would not play with him now.
And then she began getting acupressure treatments and taking herbs from our Chinese Medicine healthcare professional specialist. And we saw improvements, especially in her behavior as well as her obsessions and compulsions. Life became almost normal again and I had time to do other things. I think that part of me wanted to believe that everything was ok and so I did not spend as much time as I could have continuing to seek help for her. I wanted to on some level but on another, I was so drained from months of exhausting nights and challenging behaviors that brought me to wonder if our only hope was to call 911 or take her to the emergency room. And so as things improved, I just wanted to live life and have some time to myself. I became engrossed in a writing project and also was involved with a mother’s empowerment group. These things were great for me and for my entire family, including my daughter. I was feeling better and as always, my mental health was reflected back to me in my family.
As I look back on it, I see how it was difficult for me to step outside of it. I wanted to seek more help for her, but first needed help for myself. I too have issues with depression and anxiety, never officially diagnosed for myself but it runs in my family.
To summarize, things got worse again and gave us the wake up call we needed to seek others sources of help. On a positive note, my husband and I share parenting beliefs as well as spiritual beliefs which have helped us navigate this journey together. We have made mistakes together along the way and in doing so have learned what not to do. Our improved behavior and calmer attitude with our daughter, brought improved behavior with her. Sure, we still make mistakes and at times have a difficult time remaining calm when she is out of control with anger and irrational demands but we both see how important it is to remain calm and how our anger only fuels hers and adds to the problem.
We are still knee-deep in this journey but have found renewed hope with homeopathy. We have also found comfort talking with another parent with a daughter with OCD who had tried most of the psychotherapy approaches for OCD wanting to avoid medications and then found homeopathy and have seen amazing improvements with it over the past year with their daughter.
I have learned that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is NOT a child who wants things a certain way and is overly neat or organized. This does not describe my daughter at all. I have learned that having a child with “special needs” is not something anyone else can really understand. I have felt the need to record and share my journey, knowing that others too are going through similar challenges with their children and how alone they must feel. I have learned that people often pull away when you need them most especially when they can not imagine what you are experiencing or when it makes no sense to them.
I saw OCD described as a “silent disorder” which is a good way to label it. To other people, it is not obvious or even apparent all that my daughter and our family has been experiencing. They might see her dry, cracked hands and think she has exema. They do not see what is going on within her, even as her parents, we can not see what has been going on inside of her. She has always been a very verbal child but this has not been something she can verbalize too us. What comes out is anger and demands. It has taken much patience on our part, hearing about what others have gone through with OCD, and listening to her to even have a glimpse of what she is experiencing. I think her inability to express what she is going through is in part due to her age, and in part due to the nature of OCD and the fact that it does not make any sense.
I have seen the value of activity to improve one’s life both as a homeschooling mom and through my education as an Occupational therapist where I learned, “Man through the use of his hands, can influence the state of his own health.”
I jumped on this knowledge over the summer with my daughter’s interest in learning to knit. I invited my friend who knows how to knit and crochet to our house and one of Abby’s friends who wanted to learn this as well. Abby learned to knit and crochet and I relearned to crochet and after a 30 year break, learned the next step of crochet, making more than a single chain. A new hobby and one we could share has been helpful on our journey. And yet, it is not enough to engage her.
She told me recently after having a family ornament making night, that doing a craft ” takes her mind off cleaning”. This was huge! The first time she acknowledged the irrational nature of her cleaning obsessions and saw a way to deal with it.
It also reinforced for me the idea that I need to create more experience like our knitting, crocheting gatherings. I need to approach our life and her “homeschool experience” in this manner. I need to invite people over our house for activities more to meet her needs to both be at home and to be with friends. I think having a bit more structure is helpful to her as well, like getting together for knitting or for crafts or some other purpose would be helpful to her. I am still figuring all of this out.
And when I look back, I see I am still struggling with the same issue I have her entire life, how to homeschool my second child, how best to meet her needs, something that seamed to come so easy with my first child. It has been magnified now and maybe brought more to light with her experience with OCD. Yes, life is much more complicated now. As her mother, I would give anything to take this burden away from her if I could. It hurts to see her childhood innocence “shattered” with this experience. Yet, on a deeper level, I know that this too is God and part of her journey. My role is to stay calm and present despite her behavior and that has been a challenge.
As I have grown on my spiritual journey over the years, I have grown to believe in having no regrets. This experience has been a real test to that belief and there is so much I wish I could “redo”. Yet, I must embrace what is, the life we have and my daughter as she is.