Exceptional Families with Exceptional Kids
by Christopher Auer
About ten years ago, I got a job working as a special education teacher in a very low-income area of Tucson, Arizona. I had about twelve students with various disorders and disabilities in my classroom. Like any new teacher, I was saddled with the toughest of the lot. One child in particular, was widely known throughout the school. His mother had been a prostitute and cocaine addict; he was born cocaine-exposed.
At school, he was very difficult – moody, aggressive and impulsive. I struggled and struggled with him, often having to restrain him from hurting himself and others. Weekly outings into the community, these always caused me anxiety. I never knew what to expect with him. The most difficult time came when he hit my aide. The school resource officer (police) was called, leading to charges against him. This actually turned out to be beneficial to he and his family, as counseling was mandated.
Somehow, we both survived a stressful and frustrating year, only to find out that he was to be in my class another year. While I literally felt like crying, there was something about him that I liked. I think it was his sense of humor. There were times when I really enjoyed working with him. I had also figured out that I could get him to do some work if I first played around with him for a bit – teasing or joking, or sensory activities.
Midway through the second year, his reputation changed completely. Teachers noticed that he was respectful, attentive, and just well behaved. A mutual fondness and sense of trust had grown between us. He began to talk about his feelings and ask for help in resolving conflicts.
One afternoon, as we stood outside the school together, waiting for his bus to come, he looked up at me and said, “Mr. Auer, can I just come home with you?” While the question was serious, we began thinking of all the things we would do. When the bus came, and we said goodbye for the day, I knew that I was one of the lucky few that had changed a life.
This experience, as well as my personal life experiences, played a very large part in the writing of Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder. While the supports he received in the classroom, including sensory integration activities helped, the key factor was relationships. His family became more unified and engaged in his life through family counseling. Our relationship had deepened through trust built over time, and by searching out the best in each other. Even more important, we never gave up.
In our book, Kathy Marshall, Executive Director of the National Resilience Resource Center, defines resilience as something that we are all born with – the capacity to navigate life well. We can learn how to tap into resilience by understanding how we operate from the inside out. It’s also a shift in thinking. If everyone is born with resilience, then we are all “at-promise”. It’s our responsibility then as parents as providers to see each of our children, as well as every child in the same light.
In the story of the child in my classroom, it was exactly this ability to see him as “at-promise” that made all the difference. I grew to see him not as the child of an addicted prostitute, but rather a child with great character – funny, warm, curious, and surprisingly empathetic.
When families are seen as “at-promise”, that too contributes to the success of the family to navigate life well. So, while knowledge of sensory diets and understanding of the nature and characteristics of sensory processing disorder are very important to families with children with this disorder – and certainly included in our book, the resilience, and strength of relationships are most important.
I now believe that the struggles of parenting a child with special needs make us better parents,and better human beings. Lance Armstrong had a similar insight when he said,
“Cancer taught me a plan for more purposeful living, and that in turn taught me how to train and to win more purposefully. It taught me that pain has a reason, and that sometimes the experience of losing things – whether health or a car or an old sense of self- has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers.”
When I see my children, I now try to look at how far they have come, not where they are at. It’s the journey that matters, not the medals along the way. It’s also clear what is important in life. It’s being grateful for the food on the table, a house to live in, and a constant challenge to see the best in people – all are “at-promise”. Life’s treats are the company of those we love, and noticing the funny, goofy, beautiful things our children do everyday. There is no limit to what we and our children can accomplish.
Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder: A Family Guide to Understanding and Supporting Your Sensory-Sensitive Child
In raising children with or without a disability, nothing is more important than the family unit. This book will enable you to enhance your child’s sensory development. Additionally, it will help you ensure that your child and all family members not only survive, but, indeed, THRIVE! When your whole family thrives, you can best ensure your child’s optimum development over the short and long range of life.
Auer and Blumberg have lent their insight, passion, and compassion to this workbook. In so doing they have also provided a guidebookand a preamble of advocacy for children and their families.
It has been said that a family of five is akin to five people lying side-by-side on a waterbed: whenever one person moves, everyone feels the ripple. A child with sensory processing disorder can have a devastating impact upon the day-to-day functioning of a family. There are several books available that provide data and information on the nature of this puzzling disorder, but Auer and Blumberg have written a valuable book that finally provides parents with specific strategies and practical solutions to the daily challenges faced by these special children and their families. While other books define the problem, Auer and Blumberg offer techniques to minimize the effect of the disorder on the child’s daily life. I strongly recommend this book to any adult who is parenting a child with a sensory processing problemand to the professionals who are assisting moms and dads on this challenging journey.
Finally a book that treats SPD in the full context that it deserves: not as a co-condition or as another obstacle but as a full fledged challenge to the complete inclusion of individuals with unique learning styles. The collaborative integration of the senses accounts for your picking up this book, examining it and deciding on whether to make it part of your library. Auer and Blumberg walk you through how that process is both derailed and rekindled.
Read this with a highlighter in hand, because you will want to refer many times to the wise and wonderful ideas in this splendid how-to book. The authors are not only sensitive and resourceful parents of kids with SPD, but also articulate, honest, and sensible writers.
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