Finding What Works for My Son: An Ongoing Journey

“He’ll grow out of it.”

“He’s just all boy.”

“Isn’t he only 3?”

After bringing home a whirlwind of a toddler at age 2 1/2 from Korea, these phrases were the backdrop of many conversations I had with friends and family about our youngest, Ty. The problem was that he wasn’t growing out of it, other boys were not like Ty, and he was 5 but just really small for his age.

My mother’s intuition told me there was something more. The letters ADHD floated around in my mind while I watched my child routinely climb to the highest point he could find and jump.

I’m an avid reader and verbal processor so I started reading and talking. Reading lead me to checklists that all but formally diagnosed our son’s behavior as ADHD. Books and adoptive parent training also told me his past traumas had altered his brain chemistry making him more likely to suffer from any number of lettered diagnoses. Then, during a conversation with a dear friend who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, she said her profession is phasing out ADD/ADHD and recognizing that a person’s inability to attend is usually due to a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If one’s body is misinterpreting what is going on around him, it is almost impossible to attend to a task at hand.

Day 155

SPD. I had read about that and was fairly certain it was another 3 letter diagnosis that fit my son. We found a phenomenal Occupational Therapist (OT). She confirmed that his seemingly hyper behavior and constant motion was indeed to a sensory seeking brand of SPD. Additionally, Ty was diagnosed with a dyspraxia that impaired his ability to know where his body was in space. This could explain why he often looked like he was not paying attention during group activities such as Tae Kwon Do. His body was almost never doing what it was supposed to which made it look like he just was not following directions. A dyspraxia diagnosis meant he may have been paying attention and trying all along but actually had been unable to conform.

To address the sensory seeking, our OT suggested that a steady “diet” of activities that purposely engaged Ty’s proprioceptive and vestibular systems would calm him enough to function. Our decision to homeschool would allow Ty the sensory breaks he would need to get through a school day. The problem was that no amount of carrying heavy books, joint compressions, swinging, or spinning seemed to satiate his voracious sensory appetite.

Under the constant guidance of a physician who specializes in pediatric integrative medicine and allergies, we have been adjusting Ty’s diet and supplements as well, to see if there is an underlying allergy. Currently, Ty follows a dairy/gluten/phenol-free diet and takes a digestive enzyme, high doses of liquid fish oil, folate, zinc, a yeast inhibitor, probiotic, and l-theanine.

I’m happy to say that my son has recently had a language explosion, started making eye contact and speaking at appropriate volume, and his social skills improved. While he has come a long way, Ty still has a long way to go. I am also stocking up on sensory activities to create a school environment that sets him up for success. There are wiggle seats, balance boards, fidget toys, therapy putty, climbing apparatus, an MP3 player, and plenty of planned break time.

We start our school day with Bible listening time. During that time, I provide fidget toys such as Wikki Stix, therapy putty, and pipe cleaners to keep his hands busy so his mouth can stay quiet. Sitting on a T-stool or standing on a balance board also helps to activate the brain’s language center during speech and listening activities. When Ty moves into table work, he has a wiggle seat that allows some kinetic movement while he works. Using a weighted lap pad or making sure his seat is as close to the table (horizontally and vertically) as possible also helps him sit longer. A whiff of peppermint essential oil can help him concentrate for a couple extra precious minutes.

After each still activity, I make sure Ty has a break to climb, swing, or do heavy work like hauling laundry baskets for me. These activities help organize his sensory systems so he can be successful at the next task. Music can also be very relaxing for kids. Ty loves to sit with an MP3 player loaded with his weekly memory work to song while he’s waiting for his turn for me to help him.

In the afternoons, he spends time in a soothing, hot bath with Epsom salts and calming essential oils. And, hopefully, by the end of the day, his specialized routine helps both of us feel successful and hopeful for what the future will bring.

If you are managing ADD/ADHD behaviors without medication, what does your day look like?

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4 Comments

  1. Melissa, how blessed is your son to have you as his mommy!! You practically sound like an OT or PT. You’ve obviously done a lot of research to make sure your son has the best chance of being successful…and without medications, if at all possible.

    I want to share your post with some friends and a family member who have children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

    I have a daughter with high functioning Down syndrome whom I have been homeschooling since the beginning. We have been so blessed to have found the perfect curriculum for her, Time4Learning. There is a link on our curriculum site about SPD that I’ve read before. So when I read this on your blog, that came to mind. I’d like to share it with you, since you may find it helpful, also. http://www.time4learning.com/SensoryProcessingDisorder.shtml

    • Janet,
      Thanks for sharing. We’ve explored Time4Learning before. I actually did a review for them last year. I’m glad it’s working for your family. We’ve found Classical Conversations to be another method of learning that fits well with kids with special needs. My prayer has always been that our story would be able to help others. I hope it helps your friends.
      Keep in touch,
      Melissa

      • We actually did Classical Conversations with our daughter with special needs last year, along with Time4Learning. We have a large CC group that meets down the street and thought it would be a good place for her to have some ‘socialization’. What we liked is that she got to practice speaking in front of a group. However, nobody really reached out to her or played with her during recess/lunch. So this year we’re going to try a homeschool P.E. group as we continue to do Time4Learning. My older kids did the Challenge classes a couple of years and it was very good for them. This year T4L has added high school to their program.
        Thanks for the suggestion, though. 😉

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