My son will graduate Kindergarten in two weeks and two days. He attends Kindergarten at the school he has always gone to, a daycare he's attended since he was five months old. Along the way, the staff there has seen us through many things: my serious illness (when he was six months old) that required me to be hospitalized for five days and home on disability for seven weeks after that.) Many childhood illnesses. (You don't really want to know what Toddler Diarrhea is, do you?) And, at 17 months, a diagnosis from an occupational therapist of Sensory Processing Disorder, with severe oral defensiveness as a key issue.
The diagnosis for us was both an end and a beginning. It was an end because at last, after many months, we had an answer as to why my son flat out refused to eat "normally". Why wouldn't he eat Cheerios? Pretzels? Chicken nuggets? Why didn't he ever gum anything as a teething baby except for his own hands, or a pacifier? Why couldn't he get a latch good enough to breastfeed?
It was a beginning for me, because I had to educate myself. I had vaguely heard of kids with autism having sensory issues, so when the OT gave me the diagnosis, my first response was, "Wait...he has autism?" No, he doesn't, she explained to me. Most kids with autism do have sensory issues, but not all kids with sensory issues have autism. Okay...I guess I have some reading to do, I thought.
And so, I read. I bought every book I could find on the subject, which, at first, was not much. Books have never let me down, so they had to give me the answers I needed. How did this happen? Is it hereditary? Did I eat something, or get exposed to something, during the pregnancy that did it? Was it the 21-hour long labor that ended in emergency c-section?
Personally, I think it was the last; the c-section was because his heart rate was dipping with each contraction, and that went on for a while before they did the surgery. I will never know, of course, and sometimes I lie awake at night, still, thinking about it. If I had hired a doula, like I had thought about doing, maybe labor would have gone differently for me, and I would have delivered faster, vaginally. Maybe, if I hadn't asked for the epidural when I did, and just kept walking around, things would have gone faster. Maybe maybe maybe...all these decisions I made that may have affected how my son will live his entire life.
I will never know what caused my son to have SPD. For all I know, it's in how my genes and my husband's genes mingled together, or some completely different cause science hasn't yet discovered.
What I do know, however, is my son would not be the well-adjusted child he is without the love and support from his daycare. I shared the diagnosis with the director immediately. She had heard of SPD, but didn't know much about it, and she began to read up on it, too. The staff never treated my son as "different". This was just Frank, and this is how he eats. Oh, you need us to put a food item on his plate at lunchtime? No problem. You need us to make him touch the food item, take one bite of it at lunchtime? No problem. He's not toileting at age four? No problem.
I wish everyone who had children with special needs could have such a positive experience in their child's schooling. And I hope and pray, as we get ready to say good bye to his first school, that his experiences in the rest of his school years will be as positive.