…ask for the ancient paths, ask for the good way, and walk in it…
So, we’re set to begin Brain Balance, but why are we here to begin with? Let me say at the outset that no one has yet been able to pinpoint exactly why these disorders occur. The blame has been placed on everything from the mother suffering some kind of stress during pregnancy to too much TV to vaccinations gone wrong. Ten years ago you hardly ever heard of Asperger’s Syndrome, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder, and ADHD and Autism were rare. That’s just to name just a few. Ten years ago we were just beginning our journey into this world. I don’t think I ever thought too much about the future, or the possibility that she would always struggle. Maybe it’s a kind of protective thing that parents use to get through a day- it would be pretty defeating to realize that this is forever, although that is exactly what parents of autistic children hear. I guess I just blithely went through the years hoping that she would improve- and I did see levels of improvement- OT has helped her in many ways. There was a time when Kate couldn’t handle being in a large room like the gym, or at the supermarket. Her sensory issues were the first thing we noticed. Sensory Integration Disorder is being unable to process all the sensory input that comes our way. If you think about it, there is light, sound, and everything that touches our bodies all screaming for attention. Babies have built it filters, which gradually lessen and become more refined as they grow. A child with sensory issues does not have all the filters operating properly, so that they hear everything, feel everything, and everything they see commands their attention. When you sit in your living room, you focus on what’s important to you. A plane may fly overhead, and you may or may not take note of it. A car driving by on the road goes unnoticed- unless it pulls into your driveway. The baby cries in the next room- mom will certainly tune in. We focus visually on what we need to see, and our brain automatically tunes out what is extraneous. Our clothing is comfort to us, but to children with sensory overload, they feel the texture, or the tags, or the tightness, acutely. Many do not tolerate having their hair brushed. It is truly painful for them. I kept Kate’s hair short for many years for this reason. Now, brushing will often elicit cries of pain and a whole lot of yelling, but she’s learned to deal with it. A touch on the arm when she was a toddler would cause a howl and she would smack you. But she craved touch- deep touch- many will remember her barreling toward you to give a hug, after first smashing into her target. Then she’d squeeze the life out of the object of her affection. (She still does that!) All of these extremes were a sign that her proprioceptive senses were out of kilter, too. These are the senses within our joints that tell us where we are in space, that give us a sense of stability in walking, the ability to grip a pencil just enough to hold and manipulate it to write, that we are solidly seated in a chair. Kate walked with a “gorilla gait” when she walked, finally at 15 months. She needed to place her feet with enough force that the message got to her brain that her foot had actually hit the floor. She “bounced”- whenever she was seated, she bounced back and hit her head on the back of the couch, the chair, the carseat, the crib. Our furniture sustained structural damage from the constant head-bouncing! Sometimes I thought the car was “hesitating”, but after a few rhythmic hesitations I realized it was Kate in the back, bouncing away. That gives you an idea of the force behind it, since she was also strapped and buckled in! At the time, I had no idea why she bounced, why she stomped, why she cried a lot. What is most interesting to me is that she could behave well when we were out somewhere. We’d go to church, and she’d be fine. We dreaded getting into the car, though, because we knew she’d lose it before we’d left the parking lot. She was perfect at the doctor’s office, never cried when she got her shots. She tolerated eye drops at the eye doctor’s, beginning in infancy. She has strabismus, which basically means the eye muscles are either too weak or too strong, resulting in turning in of the eyes. At 5 months, one eye was patched, and she was in glasses at 8 months. She pretty much took it all in stride. When she was 4, she had a very hoarse voice, and had a scope put down her nose to check her vocal chords for nodules. She sat quietly through the whole thing. I suspect the damage to her vocal chords ( which was minimal) was a result of all the crying and screaming she did. Speech therapy taught her to modulate her voice a bit (although I didn’t notice that she actually did…) so they could heal.
It’s interesting that I first heard of Sensory Integration Disorder on the TV show 20/20, back when Katie was almost three. At last I had an answer to her behavior! I was homeschooling the other kids, but had gone through the public school for assessments that spring, so I knew someone at the school. (Coincidence? Providence!) She just happened to be the director of special services, so I called and arranged for testing the following fall. (It had to be after Kate turned three, or we would have had to go to Early Intervention, which wouldn’t have happened in time anyway.) So I anxiously waited for fall, and the scheduling and the test results and after about 6 months, she finally began OT (Occupational Therapy). Lots of people have come and gone in the past 10 years, and I appreciate all they have done in working with Katie, but her OT, Susie, has been with us for 9 of the 10 years! (Thank you, Susie! We love you!)
So began our journey through the public school special education system. I was now the mother of 8 children, and one officially with “special needs”. My faith journey over the previous 20 years had been pretty much doing what I knew I was supposed to do. I went to church, taught Sunday School, worked in MOPS, mid-week Ladies Bible studies, read lots of books on the Christian life, and we participated in several Christian homeschool groups, and various classes, field trips and group projects. I was surrounded by loving, helpful Christian friends who were always there to help and support and teach and pray! I have wonderful memories of all those women that the Lord brought into my life, and I see now that the Lord was laying a foundation in my life that I hadn’t had before. I grew up with a Judeo-Christian moral foundation, but this was growing the relational foundation, the idea that Christianity is more than just doing the steps, it’s a relationship with the God of the the universe! And all the circumstances of our lives have one goal: to draw us into that relationship with God, and then to grow us deeper and deeper into the knowledge of God, who is not only God of the universe, but now our Father. I’ve heard that one’s concept of a father is based on what one’s own life experiences were. My father passed away 12 days before Kate was born. I loved him dearly, and he was always there, loved to visit the grandkids, but I never felt that I had a relationship where I could ask for advice, or where he taught me “life lessons”. He always provided for us- we didn’t have a lot, but I never remember him being out of work for any length of time, and I never went hungry. Learning to trust my Heavenly Father for provision was fairly easy; relationship was another matter entirely. But, just as our earthly relationships grow and change over time, so does our relationship with God. So I can look back over time and see the paths I’ve taken, right or wrong, good choices or bad, and see what God has done. I can see how certain things have worked together to bring me to this point. It’s kind of like a GPS- make a mistake and take a wrong turn, choose a different road than the one it has calculated, and it recalculates your route, but the destination remains the same. It may take you longer, the road may be rougher, but you’ll get there! Like Christina and I last week, coming home from Brain Balance, decided to try Shortest Route. It took us over dirt roads and we saw lots of scenic NH, but it took longer than the Shortest Time route we tried the next time. So- I don’t have to be concerned with the why of any given circumstance in my life. I know there’s a direction, and I know that God is in control. All I have to do is focus on, and follow hard after God. And like the kid with Sensory Integration Disorder, I am bombarded with constant distractions and all kinds of demands for my attention. Like that child, I have to learn, to train my responses, to choose which things that I need to filter out and ignore. Similarly, we can’t trust our brains to just do it automatically. It takes effort, and time, and growth.