The Village Voices

As parents, we always want to believe that the decisions we make throughout the day will provide the best possible outcomes for our children. So when someone comes along and tells us that we need to do things differently, it can feel like a huge blow our parenting ego and affect our decision-making moving forward.

My first meeting with my daughter’s former ABA therapist left me feeling incredulous and angry. I learned early on in our journey that therapists will tell you things you don’t want to hear about your parenting methods. “How dare this woman presume to know anything about me after one meeting,” I thought, “she doesn’t know my child like I do.”

Of course, the therapists do know my child – just in a different way. After that first meeting with the therapist, it took all I had to not call and cancel services. As time marched on, her advice and criticisms didn’t ease up, and I constantly fought the internal desire to fire her. But I didn’t, because the truth is, I had no clue how to handle certain situations, and I needed help. Did I follow everything she told me? No. Did I feel guilty for not doing everything she told me to do? No.

Every night, I go to bed asking myself if I have done enough for my daughter: am I giving her everything she needs to be successful? What have I done right? Wrong? I consider different therapies, research new programs, and question every decision I make. It’s exhausting. On top of all that, the advice and sometimes criticisms of her therapists play on repeat in my mind.

At one point, my daughter was receiving six hours of therapy a week from four different therapists, all of whom gave me instructions on how to do things – and how not to do things. I was constantly trying to compartmentalize all the information and make adjustments. The advice of therapists was a steady soundtrack in my mind: “She needs a sensory break”, “Don’t react”, “Stop anticipating her needs”, “Talk to her more often”, “Order the weighted blanket”. This advice dominated my thoughts, when all I wanted was to be her mom – not her therapist or case manager.

My daughter and I recently reconnected with her first speech therapist. We went for ice cream – she brought along her son and dog – and once we had our treats, we sat down outside to catch up. My daughter climbed all over the seats and onto the table before marching down the sidewalk and crawling into the shrubs. She hunted for sticks, she sang, and she approached strangers on nearby benches. It was impossible to have conversation when every other sentence out of my mouth was a plea for my daughter to come back or sit down or please listen.

Later, I heard from the speech therapist (of course), who said she needed to speak with me about “some things” and give me some advice. “Here we go again,” I thought. We have formed a friendship over the last few years and she has seen me through all the ups and downs of parenting and my personal life, so I knew that whatever she had to stay was coming from a place of good intentions, but I did have to steel myself for whatever advice was coming my way. She advised me that in certain situations I need to stop asking and start demanding my daughter do the things I need her to do. She explained that by asking her if she would do it, I was giving her a choice and some situations – like how to behave properly in a social situation – it isn’t a matter of “choice”.

No matter how often I hear it, and no matter who is saying it – it just doesn’t get easier to hear criticism. Their words always stay with me, long after they have been been spoken, their choir of voices echoing through my head as I try to sleep.

Whether or not I can “do this” is even a thought i’ve had on some of my worst nights – this whole parenting thing. It’s a ridiculous internal argument to have because of course I can and I am doing this parenting gig. I have supportive people cheering me on with their insight, tips, and suggestions.

And just like any successful athlete, actor, or business person, I need to stay receptive and open to the advice and wisdom of coaches and teachers along the way in order to be a successful parent. Does it mean I have to do everything they say? Of course not. But I will let go of my ego long enough to at least consider that there might be a better…or more effective way of doing things. It does take a village, after all.

Sound Affects

My daughter is an earlier riser, so our Saturday morning tradition is to be out and about exploring parks, trails, playgrounds, beaches, and the occasional local event. When she was 16 months old we stopped at a local green market so I could get myself a coffee at a Starbucks nestled into the downtown area of a local beach town where they sell fruit pouches that she loves.

Not long after we entered the busy coffee chain, I sensed that my daughter was starting to feel overwhelmed by the sounds and people surrounding us. I knew we were on borrowed time, and my impatience began to mount. I was prepared to walk out without my coffee. No sooner had I decided on an exit strategy, the barista pressed the button on the espresso machine. The usually innocuous sound sent my daughter into a tailspin, and I was left standing in the chaos of a popular coffee shop on a weekend morning as my daughter went into full meltdown mode.

What was happening? I used to vacuum while wearing her in her baby carrier. She never had a problem with sound before — why now?

I rocked my daughter on the floor, singing her lullabies until her sobbing slowed and I thought we could make a break for the door. To the delight of the other patrons, I grabbed my bag and my daughter and opened the door to make our escape only to have a herd of motorcycles go roaring by.

Cue uncontrollable wailing (from my daughter externally, me on the inside). Although she was unable to tell me what she was feeling with words, I could see the emotion in her eyes – she was scared and in pain.

That day, I learned firsthand that Sensory Processing Disorder is not black and white. Just because things don’t bother your child one day doesn’t mean they won’t the next.

So – how do I get my daughter who won’t wear earphones outside to play without worrying about loud noises? How do I vacuum at home? How do I use a blender? Why is it that loud music is fine but a leaf blower would send her into a tailspin?

My sensory seeker was a mixed bag when it came to auditory input, and I needed help. I sat down with my daughter’s Occupational Therapist the following week to discuss strategies. Some things that helped us:

  • We started watching short clips on YouTube of motorcycles, trains, and airplanes and talking about what they do and how they sound. Then when we saw them in real life, I would point them out from the car window to familiarize her with them.
  • I found toys that made the actual sounds that a vacuum and blender make. We put her in control of making the sounds and that helped a lot. Bonus for parents everywhere: the vacuum actually sucks dirt too!
  • I mimicked covering my ears when things were too noisy, and my daughter caught on.

These simple strategies went a long way in helping my daughter with loud auditory input over the course of a couple months.

Eventually, my daughter grew accustomed to these sounds and even began to vacuum with me.

Now as a toddler, my daughter will say something like, “It’s okay mommy. It’s just a train,” while we wait at a railroad crossing. She often hears things before I do, so when I see her cover her ears, I expect to hear the sound of a distant lawnmower or leaf blower and within a few moments, I can hear it too. And we can hear it all without a Starbucks-style meltdown.