sensory overload

I'm Dreaming of a Normal Christmas

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Being Vista’s parents is a work in progress and every day is a learning experience.

We’re discovering that Christmas can present a whole new set of challenges, though.

Today was ‘put up the tree and decorate it, but forget the tinsel and garland, because the cats just try to eat it anyway,  and don’t forget to put the breakable ornaments up high’ day.  The day that all kids love.  They can’t wait to help you put the ornaments on the tree and see the pretty lights all lit up.  Unless they’re kids with sensory issues.

It took less than 45 minutes for Vista to go into a complete and utter meltdown. Bright lights, the feel of the tree as she tried to put the ornaments on.  She eventually settled for placing the ornaments on top of the branches in such a way that she didn’t actually have to touch the fake needles.

We got her calmed and let her go to bed to decompress.

Then Bil and I talked while we wrapped her presents.

Giving her a bunch of presents on Christmas morning is not going to work.  The sensory overload that all the new toys and having to touch all the paper to unwrap it, and the sound of the paper ripping would cause would take us days to get her to unwind.

We discovered that last year.

It took at least 30 minutes to open each gift.  And my mid-afternoon she was completely done.

So we’ve decided to do things a bit differently this year.  It’s not the way we want to do things, but at this point we can see no other options.

Each evening in the week leading up to Christmas we’ll let her open one gift and then give her the evening to play with and enjoy it.  One new toy, hours to explore it, no pressure.

We *think* this will be enough to let everyone enjoy Christmas without the stress.

It makes us sad that these measures are even necessary.  We would love to have a normal Christmas.  To have a child who is excited Christmas morning and wakes us up at 4am to see if Santa has left her any gifts under the tree.

And maybe as she gets older and learns to manage these sensory overloads, we might be able to have that.

But until that time, holidays at our house will be the 12 days of Christmas rather than one big day of celebrations.

VistaDay1 I'm Dreaming of a Normal Christmas

 I'm Dreaming of a Normal Christmas

Before You Judge My Parenting Skills…

When you see my child having a complete throw-down temper tantrum in the store, please don’t assume she’s just spoiled and throwing a fit because I won’t buy her something.

When you see my child crying and me standing there not comforting her, please don’t assume it’s because I’m an unfeeling parent.

When you see my child sitting in a restaurant watching a DVD player or playing with an iTouch with headphones in her hears as she watches videos, please don’t assume we are bad parents who sit our child in front of the TV all day.

When you see my child walking through the mall with a backpack leash on, please don’t assume it’s because I’m a lazy parent who can’t control my toddler.

We live in a reality very different from yours.

A store with lots of smells and noise quickly causes sensory overload for my daughter.  She screams and yells and lashes out and throws herself at me because she has no other way of dealing with her overwhelmed senses.

When she is crying and upset, sometimes it is also because of sensory overload.  For me to pick her up, touch her, comfort her with words, would just add to the sensory stimulation and make the situation worse.  So I stand next to her.  Not touch her.  Not saying anything.  And wait for her to start to calm.  Then I quickly try to refocus her attention on something pleasant for her.

You may see me at this point hand her the iTouch.  It’s not because I don’t want to deal with her.  It’s because after two years of trial and error, we have found an iTouch loaded with coloring / counting / alphabet games and her favorite videos is an effective escape for her.  She is able to focus on it and shut out the external sensory stimulation and therefore calm herself.

A restaurant with loud background music, people talking, weird lighting, is especially overstimulating.  Without a DVD or iTouch to block the sounds and sights, we have less than 5 minutes before you will she her with hands over her ears screaming “TOO LOUD!” over and over.  Then she will start yelling and signing “All done.  All done!”.  Her way of letting us know she needs to get out of that situation and it is too much for her.  Yes, we could lock ourselves in our house and never take her out to a restaurant.  But we want to experience things in her way.  So we choose to use distractions to allow us all to enjoy a meal out without disturbing the other patrons.

And when you see us walking with Vista and she has her backpack leash on it’s not because we have no control over her.  Exactly the opposite.  But to hold our hands in a mall setting is too overstimulating.  The sights, sounds, lights plus the added sensation of touch is too much.  So we use the leash instead.  The clasps on the backpack that go across her chest and hold it tight to her back, also act as a compression which helps calm and focus her.

So the next time you see my child, any child, acting out; the next time you see parents who are not parenting the way you think they should; stop and consider.  What is going on behind the scenes that you have no information on.  Just because kids look normal, doesn’t mean they live in the same world you do.

I don’t know anything about your life.  Please don’t assume you know anything about mine from seeing one two minute interaction with my child.

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