I open up the Pandora’s box that is Facebook when I get a sweet five minutes to myself to do something mind numbing. A mini escape as I hide in the bathroom from my screaming preschooler. Then I see something that jars me out of my peaceful zoning. Today it was an article “Texas Solves ADHD with extended recess.”
My four-year old son has Sensory Processing Disorder. That is all we have tested for, because that is what was causing him to have trouble dealing with every day life. Similarly to some children with ADHD, some children with SPD also crave movement, they need wide open spaces just to be able to cope with life. My little guy falls in with this crowd.
Here is the thing, Nero-Divergence (ADHD, SPD, OCD, ODD, and anything on the spectrum) is not an illness to be cured or solved. These kids have differently wired brains. It is part of who they are. As a parent you find the tools to teach your child to self regulate and cope with a world that they are out of sync with.
Before I had my son I imagined we would have fun family camping trips, but I had no idea how vital adventures would become to our families sanity. More often than not, fun would not be the word I would use to describe our trips, either. I think the saying goes “you Parent the child you have, not the child you thought you would have.” That has been true for us in spades.
My son’s second word was “outside”. It was squealed in high pitch delight as he splashed around in a mud puddle. He was barely six months old and had snuck out of the doggy door giving me the first of many small heart attacks. I was not prepared for this strong-willed child with a singular focus. He has always had an ingrained need to be outside covered in mud. Usually with a worm or frog in his grasp. That day was a catalyst for me. It started me on a path to incorporated nature and exploring into our everyday life.
On Friday’s we have nature school co-op (which Squishy calls Adventure School) a full day of free exploration at our local nature preserve. It has allowed him the opportunity to learn social skills. Something that does not come naturally to him. He is able to get his sensory needs met and develop a deep understanding of nature. We also have our home school garden and we spend at minimum of four hours outside for free play everyday no matter the weather. It is not enough, though.
I can sometimes feel the energy pulsing off my little man. It’s at those times when I tell my husband, “it’s time for an adventure”. I can always seem to tell when it’s been too long. If I ignore the ques his body is pushing out, I will inevitably start to see a downward spiral. A child who will quite literally be climbing the walls. (I have found him on top of the fridge more times than I like to admit)
I pack us into the car and drive until the road ends. John Muir’s wildness has become his haven. As soon as we get out of the car I can see the weight of the world slide off his little shoulders. He knows he is free. He is free to be as loud as a mountain lion, or as quiet as a shrew. No one is going to stop him from climbing the walls, because there are no walls. It is a magical transformation, and I wish that I could give him those moments every minute of every day.
One day maybe I will be able to just send him out the door and into an enchanted wilderness, but that is not our reality right now. I try to make the most of our expeditions into the wild, though, letting him take the lead. If we are just going for a day hike the only timetable I set for us is getting back to the car by dark. There have been many hikes where I had to be okay with not reaching the end of the trail.
That was something I had to change in my own mind. Realizing that marking miles is not the goal takes a different mindset. I still struggle with his aimless meandering sometimes. I mean how long do you really need to examine a lady bug? I start to get antsy after the first 15 minutes, but slowing down has also opened my eyes to what I have been missing.
The only constant in our travels is the inconsistency. One minute we would be sitting under a shade tree staring over a cliff or making echos, then he is bounding down the trail at full speed. Always screaming like a banshee when he is moving, only to stop mid step when something catches his eye. We then might spend another twenty minutes completely absorbed in a spider weaving its web. Squishy has always noticed every teeny tiny nuance about his surroundings. When we are submerged in the wilderness he can enjoy his observations without getting overwhelmed.
Sensory Processing Disorder is very complex, and different for every child who struggles to deal with an out of sync nervous system.
Being out, away from any artificial noise, light and confines allows my little boy to find peace. It seems to soak in through his skin. I am always amazed at how he can sit still and watch a woodpecker drill into a tree, completely absorbed in the rat-a-tat-tat. This same child has to spin in circles to pay attention to my words at home. His body is loose and at ease as he flies from one granite boulder to the next. Always finding his footing. The evidence of a dozen bruises along his shins tells the story of a much more clumsy child.
I can’t explain exactly what takes place in his body as he breathes in the fresh air. It’s almost as if he can finally hear what his body is telling him. I know that my mind clears when I smell the sweet scent of a Ponderosa pine, I imagine it’s similar for him. Maybe when he is older he will have the words to tell me.
Nature is not a cure for SDP. It’s a tool we use to cope in a world that is too loud, too bright, and not nearly as tactile as he needs. But when we are out there, we both find peace…