As I left the grocery store desperately trying to keep the tears in, I was reminded of just why I never take my oldest son shopping with me. I mean, ever.
It had been an especially hectic week, and the refrigerator was looking pretty lonely. There was a tube of margarine on the top shelf and maybe a random container of left overs. I needed something to cook for dinner that night. I didn’t get a chance to go to the store while the kids were at school. Against my better judgment, I thought I would run into the store with the kids and just grab 3-4 items. We would be in there for 10 minutes tops.
By the time we hit the second aisle, my 8 year old (Vman) was actually running down the aisle, throwing himself onto his belly and “surfing” the rest of the way. My 6 year old, of course, started following suit. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Kindergarten. Monkey see. Monkey do.
Trying desperately to get Vman to stop, I took him by the arm. But one look in his eyes told me that he was truly out of control. His behavior wasn’t just out of control. He didn’t have control over how out of control he was.He didn't have control over how out of control he was. #adhd #add Click To Tweet
In the moment, it’s easy to see the bigger picture but still feel crushed that your child is the absolute idiot body surfing down the grocery store aisles. I wanted to scream, “You’re eight years old. This is beyond unacceptable! When the hell are you going to finally get yourself together!”
I can easily do an hour grocery store trip with my Kindergartener. He’ll walk the aisles with me, help me find items and chat up a storm. It’s pleasant and wonderful mom/son time. But not with Vman. It’s an emotional roller coaster of just trying to keep him within social boundaries that I end up a wreck. And, to be honest, he does too.
Where Do Sensory Issues End and Hyperactivity Begin?
Vman has struggled with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) since the moment he was born. He came into this world screaming and it never let up until after years of pediatric occupational therapy. Despite being so ingrained into the Sensory Processing Disorder community through my other website The Sensory Spectrum, I never was sure if Vman’s over-the-top energy was a product of his SPD or something more.
As a child, there was absolutely no “off” switch for Vman. He never napped as an infant. He never stopped moving as a toddler. And even once he entered school, we would keep a trampoline in our living room to give him a physical outlet. Was this child a sensory seeker or was something more going on?
He also didn’t seem to have the ability to stop himself. His impulses would take over. Just like in the grocery store. And so while I knew he was a good kid at heart, he sure did seem to be going out of his way to press everyone’s buttons. At what point was the inability to control his actions no longer a bi-product of his age and maturity?
Vman was struggling in school, which led me to get him evaluated by a neuropsychologist. “Do you test for ADHD?” I asked the office. Because deep down inside I knew. It turns out my son was on the scale for ADD and ADHD. Wahoo! Let’s add some more acronyms to this child’s folder. Nothing like a good ole heaping bowl of Special Needs Alphabet Soup to start the day.
ADHD vs SPD
The problem with telling the difference between ADHD and SPD is they can often present in similar ways. Kids with either diagnosis can seem hyperactive, impulsive and unfocused. Combine ADHD with SPD, and the two can cause learning difficulties, make it challenging for relationships with other children and reduce a child’s ability to follow directions and/or complete tasks.
However, the best way to approach each diagnosis is different. Children with sensory processing disorders need occupational therapy intervention to help them train their brains to manage sensory stimuli that seems overwhelming. Or they need to train their bodies to connect with the sensory signals they are receiving because they are under-responsive.Children with #ADHD will respond to medication. A child who strictly has #sensory issues will not. Click To Tweet
Children with ADHD often need medication to help balance the chemicals in their brain to allow them to comfortably function. It is generally accepted that only children with ADHD or ADD will respond to medication. A child who strictly has sensory issues will not respond to medication.
To make it even more challenging to figure out, many issues with ADHD also echo the challenges children face because of their age and maturity. Young kids just don’t have the personal framework in place to be able to control their impulses. It can be difficult to tell if it’s a toddler issue or a hyperactive issue. Our neuropsychologist said that it’s common to not diagnose kids until they are at least eight years old because of this issue. Once a child is around eight, those developmental issues should be gone and professionals can tell if the child is having behavioral, sensory and ADHD issues or a combination.
Medication for ADHD; Therapy for SPD
Starting medication for the ADHD was one of the smartest choices we could have made for our son. We noticed a change the very first day. He had received a present of a really cool dinosaur excavation kit. He was so excited to start “digging” for the dinosaur bones. Normally he would have lost interest within 10 minutes. Instead, he sat for more than an hour working on the kit. The dinosaur is now proudly displayed in his room.
The medication didn’t really change his personality. He’s still the boisterous Vman we love. The difference is he’s not so impulsive, not so out of control all of the time, not so wild eyed.
Vman is generally happier on the medication. He’s not spending a ridiculous amount of energy trying to fight his body. The interesting thing is that as he’s been on the medication longer, we’ve noticed some old sensory issues come up. It’s not that the sensory issues ever went away, but his attention issues were so overwhelming for him that the sensory problems were secondary.
Grocery Store Success?
A couple of weeks into the medication, I asked Vman if he wanted to try to go to the grocery store with me. It would be a trial run for both of us. He grabbed a cart as we entered the grocery store. We spent time picking out just the right green apples for him. We went to the bread aisle and he chose what he would like for school lunch that week. Then we moved on to the diary aisle for milk. At check out, he unloaded the cart and waited for me to pay.
As we walked out the door, I gave him a side hug and said that I really enjoyed our shopping trip. He nodded in agreement. Didn’t it feel great to just be able to get what we needed without any drama, I asked. He smiled and wholeheartedly agreed.
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