Anxiety is no stranger to kids with sensory processing disorder. It makes perfect sense, of course. Not being like everyone else because the brain is receiving wrong or disorganized information, not being able to play sports, win board games, or participate in class like everyone else, not being able to make or keep friends like everyone else- all of these can be a huge source of anxiety. Of course not all children with sensory issues have these things, but many do.
My son MeMe definitely has had his share of anxiety. Thinking back now to just about a year ago, MeMe had such strong anxiety that he refused to be in a room alone, didn’t want to even go outside to play in case someone saw him playing. His nails were bitten down so much I didn’t have to ever check if they needed cutting. Remembering further back now, MeMe was selectively mute when he started preschool at the age of 3. He had a horrible social anxiety throughout preschool where we spent months at first getting him to talk to the teachers (how we did this is a long story for another time), then to talk with friends, and then be able to request his needs from the teachers, such as, needing to use the bathroom, asking for a paintbrush, or getting help when/if someone bullied him (he was the perfect victim, you understand). Sadly MeMe’s anxiety resulted in him wetting himself several times when he had been toilet-trained for over a year already (!) and all because his anxiety prevented him from speaking to the teachers under any circumstance. (His teachers did eventually get smart and started taking him to the bathroom every half-hour to avoid more accidents.) It wasn’t only the talking that made MeMe anxious, for most of the day in nursery he’d stand in a stiff, awkward position with his hands up by his face, almost as if to protect himself.
MeMe’s anxiety started to disappear when he entered first grade and left the social setting of the preschool classroom. What a relief for him- to have all his classmates sitting at their own desks instead of milling around wherever they wanted, and almost bumping into him. What wonderful classroom rules- no speaking unless your hand is raised, no getting up from your seat without permission. The organized atmosphere settled his nerves. He didn’t have to find something to play with, he didn’t have to talk to strange kids- except at recess or lunch, but then too, it was all in an organized fashion. MeMe started loving school. It helped that he already was a fluent reader and the teacher appointed him as an assistant to help other children with their reading. Every day brought new victories and his confidence soared as he realized his classmates weren’t there to bite him. The teacher also often asked him to stand at the teacher’s desk and review new words with the class, from their reading books. Here MeMe was allowed to use that special magic tool called a microphone, for reading aloud with. The microphone was truly magical as MeMe had always been scared of what might happen if his classmates hear his voice, and boy did they when he used that microphone. Suddenly using a loud, strong voice became fun instead of terrifying.
Over time as MeMe excelled in school (his terrific memory made it easy for him), he became more relaxed. His posture straightened up, he was easygoing, and he suddenly became Mr. Popular. Now I know he’s a great kid, but to see him have so many friends was heart-warming and inspiring. For me being able to know that he was all set in school and didn’t further require an adult’s assistence, was a pure blessing. But we were still having trouble at home- as soon as he walked through the door at the end of the day, he’d have a series of meltdowns.
Nowadays, I see traces of anxiety left in MeMe, but he’s relaxed and confident. He still has nightmares from story cd’s he hears in school that are scary and upsetting for him, he still chews up his sleeves, and he isn’t quite easygoing. I don’t know at this point if he chews his sleeves because he’s anxious or because he needs that sensory input for his mouth.
Recently I started MeMe on a multivitamin with high doses of B Vitamins which are supposed to help a person’s nervous system in dealing with stress and staying relaxed. I also started giving him over 1000 mg of fish oil each day which is supposed to help a person’s brain functions including focus and mood regulation. We shall see what happens next.
Do you have an anxious child? What have you done to help him/her? Share with us!