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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Aidan and the Beach

While we were in Florida for Spring Break, Aidan had to deal with a lot of anxiety and sensory issues. Things that many of us find relaxing and enjoyable are tricky for kids like Aidan to cope with. Vacations are hard in general for him because everything is different from what he is used to. All of his surroundings, the things that keep him grounded, have changed, and he is supposed to just go with the flow. A different routine, different bed, different activities, different weather, different clothes, different toilet paper...lots of "different." 

I love that vacations give our kids the chance to practice being flexible and adjusting to change. It's interesting to see how they handle the situations they are put in. 
For instance, the beach we stayed on was absolutely magnificent. White, soft sand, warm beneath our feet. Waves washing against the shore in a lullaby of rhythmic rush. Endless seashells to discover. My definition of perfect vacation. But when Aidan went for a walk on the beach, I saw it through different eyes- Aidan's eyes. The wind whipped the waves into a loud, crashing frenzy. The sand swirled around his small sensitive feet, battering them with what felt like sandpaper. The seashells beneath his feet made each step feel as though he were being cut with shards of glass. The sun was bright for his unprotected eyes. Sensory overload. 

As we walked, Aidan fell farther and farther behind the group. Daddy and I walked with him, trying to encourage him, spur him on, figure out how to help him navigate this foreign terrain. We offered his flip flops as a solution. Aidan tried putting on his shoes so the shells wouldn't dig into him, but then could only shuffle his feet in the sand which made the sand get into his flip flops which made him more distraught. He started to shut down more and more, walking slower and not answering us when we talked to him. 

Daddy offered to give Aidan a piggy back ride. I lifted Aidan up to the safety of Daddy, hoping this would help Aidan be able to enjoy the beach experience more. But after a little while, Aidan said he didn't want to be carried after all. Back to shuffling slowly on the beach, watching each step as he laid his foot down, afraid of the feeling of sharp shells and scratchy sand that was sure to bombard his body. 

We ended up just walking slowly with Aidan. We tried not to rush him as he putzed along. We found a path that had more soft sand and fewer sharp shells to walk on. Aidan didn't want his shoes, didn't want to be carried, didn't know what would help him feel better about the beach. 

When we got home a few days later, I asked his Occupational Therapist, The Amazing Laurie, if Aidan could come in for a tune up, even though I had originally said we'd be taking the week off from therapies. I told Laurie about what had happened in Florida, some of the challenges Aidan had had with anxiety and sensory issues. After her time with Aidan, Laurie came out to talk to me. She said she and Aidan had tried to problem solve some more ways he could enjoy a walk on the beach, and she had suggested wearing socks for his walk. Aidan had thoughtfully responded that he thought the sand would be so little that it would go right through his socks and bother his feet even more. That was something neither Laurie or I had considered. It struck me that Aidan was so reflective and in tune with how his body would react to something. Laurie said she wonders if this is happening to Aidan more than we realize- that he has a response to a sensory challenge that in turn causes anxiety, which makes him just shut down in order to cope. I think many times I'm not even aware of the fact that Aidan is having trouble or what specifically is causing it. 

Laurie also asked what happens in situations like the beach, or other times when Aidan is overwhelmed. I said he usually shuts down and is extremely indecisive about what to do to help himself. He can't make a simple choice in those moments, so I make the choice for him. For instance, he was afraid of going to the pool in Florida but he couldn't explain why. He was so adamant that he wanted to stay in the hotel room and not go to the pool, that he got very upset about the whole thing, having a meltdown. I finally just picked him up and carried him out of the room and down the hotel hallway. As he kicked and screamed, I said softly to Aidan that I would take care of him. I told him knew he was worried about something but I would help him. He quieted down and said "Ok." Later, Aidan was able to explain that he hates the feeling of his swimming suit material against his skin because it makes him cold. This is what was causing all that anxiety up in the hotel room.

I told Laurie that I usually make a decision for Aidan in his moments of Overwhelmedness, because I know what he needs and what will happen because of my decision, and then it usually always works out well and Aidan eventually recovers. Laurie asked if I had talked with Aidan about this process- where he gets overwhelmed, I help him by making a choice for him about what needs to be done, and then it all works out. I said no, actually! Duh! Why didn't I think of explaining that to Aidan! I do those things but I've never discussed that with Aidan. That Amazing Laurie. So genius.
So as Aidan lay on his back on the waiting room floor of The Therapy Tree that afternoon, happy and spent from his OT session, The Amazing Laurie and I explained to Aidan how when he is totally overwhelmed, Mama is going to help him by making a decision for him. If he knows he is struggling, he can ask me for help. Or if I see him struggling, I will know I should help him. Because Mama knows in her heart what Aidan needs to feel better. We gave him concrete examples of situations where this has happened so that he would really understand. A smile lit up his sweet little face and there was a hint of relief in his eyes. Now he knows for sure, in Aidan Terms, that Mama is here to take care of him and knows how to help him even when he doesn't know how to help himself.
We'll have to keep brainstorming about how to handle a beach. Socks- out. Flip flops- out. Bare feet- out. Piggy back rides- out. We'll find something that works eventually. Sometimes it just takes some time to try things and see if they work or not. I just figure the more situations Aidan is put in like the beach, where he has to problem solve in order to cope, the better prepared he will be as life goes on. Every challenging situation gives him practice for the next challenge he faces. He's a feisty little guy, and that spunk will serve him well as he marches through new challenges every day.

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