Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Back To School

So, Max started back to preschool earlier this month (is September almost over already???). After a 5 week summer break, he seemed quite excited to return to class...and to his beloved teacher, Mrs. "B". I had neglected to tell him, however, that the campus would be quite crowded as all the kids were returning, and there would be lots of activity all around him.

We actually arrived at school a few minutes early, but just as we pulled into the parking lot, Max had one of his signature "episodes" of gagging, choking and vomiting up mucous. It was quite unpleasant for him. I cleaned him up, and put him in the double stroller, alongside his sister. Well, that was a mistake. When faced with overwhelming sensory input for which he is unprepared (kids screaming, sirens blaring, etc), Max will start to hit the closest person to him. (Yes, he has some sensory issues.) So, as I'm pushing the stroller closer to the drop off location, he's getting more and more anxious. When we arrive, he's had it and begins to hit Jozey. I should have seen this one coming. The teacher greeted him with an enthusiastic "Hi Max"; but when he continued to hit his baby sister, she pulled him out and issued a time out.

Max burst into tears, of course, and started calling for me. I couldn't help but feel so guilty for leaving him there. But, I knew that once he was in class, he would be fine. His behavioral outburst was a reaction to the overstimulation. Nonetheless, I was worried about him all morning, until one of the assistants called and told me he was fine.

So that was the first day...and he's been fine ever since.

But, that begs the question, where is the line between encouraging "bad" behavior and responding to a cry for help because he's overwhelmed? I know that hitting is inappropriate; but I don't believe he does this out of any malice. It seems to be a physiological response to some sort of sensory input, usually related to sound. (Another example, we were at a birthday party where a balloon burst. Max got noticeably upset and started hitting; fortunately my husband was holding him at the time.) I know Max's brain is wired differently from Jozey's, or from any typical kid for that matter. But, does that mean we can't retrain his brain to respond differently? More appropriately?

Any thoughts???


Angela said...

Hi Heesun! I really feel for you. Jack has similar sensory issues as well. He responds differently than Max (usually bursting into tears or yelling)...still undesirable behavior -- but not "bad" or "naughty" behavior, if you know what I mean. There is a difference and it's hard to punish a child for something that is related to how their brains work. I too really wish I had the answer as to how to help Jack understand or cope in a different way. Maybe you could carry something Max could grab when he's overwhelmed...sort of trading the hitting for something else. I know that's not fixing the issue Jack or Max have but it may be more desirable than hitting or melting down, like Jack? It's so hard to leave when they're upset, even though we know they'll be fine! It pulls at my mommy heart every time.

I hope some other readers have some helpful ideas!

Shannon said...

We have had some experience with sensory issues but a lot of experience with bad habits. That is to say, habits that were bad for my little guy’s body or the bodies around him. What has worked for us is making a plan. We would explain that we cannot allow him to hurt himself or others and make a habit adjustment. It doesn't fix the issue but some kids lash out at sensory over load so our trick was to find a more healthy response. We traded hitting and head thrashing for stomping feet (which we could do with him in some situations). In most cases we just kept trading around habits looking for healthier ways to express the feelings. Good luck!

Special Survivors said...

Thank you Angela and Shannon. The suggestions you offer sound promising. Essentially, we need to figure out an alternative way for Max to express what he is feeling so that he doesn't have to rely on the hitting behavior. Simply verbalizing his feelings may not be enough; he actually needs some sort of physical outlet as well.

Take good care,

Jacqui said...


I keep on checking in to see whether you have posted. I hope everything is going okay.