ORIGINALLY POSTED: APRIL 7, 2012
April 7th: Autism has taught me to celebrate the small steps and push on through the larger setbacks.
If you had told me that learning to play in the dirt could be so difficult, I never would have believed you. But it’s quite difficult for a child with tactile defensiveness. Tactile Defensiveness is an issue within the brain that keeps a person from being able to handle certain textures. For K, if her hands were perceived to be dirty, she had to wash them immediately; regardless of what we were doing at the time or even if the dirt was actually there or not. Several times before the age of two, she scraped up the backs of her wrists in an effort to keep her hands from becoming dirty when she fell on the driveway. She hated having crumbs on her hands, hated dirt with a passion, and once begged me, in the middle of Target, to wash her arm after discovering her first freckle. She was so convinced her arm was dirty, she became visibly upset and we had to leave the store. We tried
desperately to work with her. For months, we would take her outside and try to get her to “get dirty”. After a long time, we got her to hold the dirt in her hands without having a fit. Shortly after that she developed a habit of “watering” the bushes with dirt. She would pick up a handful of dirt and immediately drop it into the bush next to her. Then she would do it again. This became a fun game for us and got her slowly more comfortable with being messy. A few weeks later it snowed. Eleven inches of snow in twenty-three hours. But that brought new problems. She wouldn’t touch the snow. We had worked for so long to get her to touch the dirt and now she won’t touch snow. It was heartbreaking to watch her playing outside, all bundled up, loving when she got hit with a snowball, but unable to hold one in her pink-gloved hands. Pushing through is all you can do when you hit a setback like that. After the snow melted and it got warm again, she was back to not touching the dirt. We had to start over from square one. After several years of us working with her and the Occupational Therapy she received at school last year, she’s doing much better and just last night she was “digging for treasure” with several other kids at our FRG BBQ. She had a blast. It was great to see her being a “normal” kid.
For kids like K, things can be much more difficult than they would normally be. Simple things like trying new foods can be hour’s long ordeals. Hair brushing has you in fear that the neighbors thinking you’re abusing your children. But sometimes, it’s the little victories that can mean the most. Sometimes, it’s the baby steps that are the bigger picture. For instance, eating peanut butter sandwiches, one would think it would a simple thing for any child to do. One would be wrong. When K first started to eat peanut butter sandwiches, things didn’t always go so well. She had a habit (in the beginning) of removing the bread and eating the peanut butter with her fingers first, then eating the bread one slice at a time. It was a small victory the day she stopped doing this, and was only after I got creative with how I cut the sandwich. Keeping it fun, I asked things like, “Do you want rectangles, triangles or squares?”, “Do you want 2, 4, 6, or 8?”. Did you know it is possible to cut a standard size sandwich into 8 triangles that still looks like triangles? It is. I do it often. It was only by cutting these sandwiches into such tiny pieces that she started eating them as sandwiches. It was nearly impossible to eat it in her preferred method of taking it apart and eating it piece by piece. It was a small victory, but a great one. She still won’t put jelly on her peanut butter sandwiches, as it’s sticky and can’t be separated from the peanut butter, but just being able to take her out and have her eat a sandwich without destroying it, is a great gift. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when your child does something for the first time, something other kids have been doing for months or even years. It’s indescribable, but I’m so glad I get to experience that with her.