by Lindsay Walsh
Last spring, I walked back into the house after throwing away the glass from the lamp my seven-year-old daughter just purposely broke. I found her standing in front of the living room window with her jewelry box in hand, ready to throw it. I honestly froze when she threw the box overhanded, out the front window, glass flying six feet out to the sidewalk. I was so exhausted from her behavior all day that I grabbed her, pulled her onto the couch and gently restrained her while I read her a book and let my teenage daughter clean up the glass. (Don’t worry, I gave her the choice of dealing with Sophia while I cleaned or vice versa.)
Sophia’s known for having these meltdowns; we call them “manic episodes.” Her pupils are huge, she is violent to herself and others, and prefers to cause as much physical damage as loudly as possible. She’s been diagnosed with sensory issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety, which is compounded with her being Deaf and having vision issues.
Each Child is Unique
I read a lot on these sensory and behavior issues, and I can say that Sophia is unique. Her behavior and diagnosis don’t fit the mold—like many of our kids—and I find it hard to follow most techniques because they never seem to work for her. Her OCD prevents her from snapping out of a manic episode.
I’ve tried a few helpful suggestions from doctors and others: compression vests, weighted blankets, skin brushing, melatonin for better sleep. We take walks, go to the park, do exercises, and jump on pillows. I’ve tried time outs, dark tents, ear muffs, TV, radio, distracting, engaging, ignoring, yelling, threats, cuddling, spanking (don’t judge), warm baths…and the list goes on and on.
Nothing works. And if it works, it only works once. Sophia is to the point where her behaviors have become so violent that she will find and throw a knife, she will throw dishes at the cat, and she will run out the front door. She will spit in your face and slam the doors open so hard that they leave holes in the walls. And she’s only seven!
I gave up on the normal list of ABA-suggested activities to distract her or modify her mood. Instead, I made some of our own rules and limits that will keep us all safe. It hasn’t led to fewer episodes, but it’s led to a better way to control them. This took some honest and serious talk with her doctors, but it was worth it.
First, if Sophia is being violent to herself, to anyone or anything else that compromises her/our safety, she gets a dose of Benadryl straight into her G-tube to calm her down. Her doctor suggested this, and we didn’t do it before we had a long evaluation. If the Benadryl stops working when she’s older, I’m prepared to medicate her. I’m not messing around with our safety anymore.
Second, I’m attempting to harness her OCD for good. I’ve started trying to get her to snap out of one behavior by substituting it for another. Cooking seems to be an amazing activity for her. She has to gather ingredients, follow specific instructions, work together with me, clean up, and then see what she’s made—and take a picture of it, of course! By the end of the recipe, I have my old Sophia back.
Another activity we do is painting. I know it’s dangerous to give a screaming, spitting, kicking child a paintbrush, but something happens when that brush hits the paint and she scoops it onto the paper. She gets put into another world. I’m not sure when I decided to try this during one of her episodes—I must’ve been out of my mind—but painting magically calms her down! Over the years we’ve also found success in yoga, hand-standing, Lego building, and TV. I’m not ashamed to say that I use the TV as a distraction.
Things that NEVER work are taking her to a park or to anywhere that has harsh fluorescent lighting or people. Those seem to exacerbate her difficult behaviors. Time outs and “talking it out” don’t work either. If you’ve ever been head-butted by a seven-year-old, you know that reasoning with them is never going to work.
I wanted to share my personal experiences and challenges with everyone because kids are not cut and dry. Their behavioral issues don’t always benefit from a list of approved activities or modifications. I want everyone to give themselves permission to try something new, even if it’s scary—like letting your kid play with knives after they’ve just thrown one at you. And I hope alternative and flexible ideas bring you success with battling sensory and behavioral issues.