Trying to Move Forward and Getting No Traction

I frantically searched for a new school to place my child in.  I found a Montessori school with a huge outdoor space and a low child to student ratio.  It looked like it could be a nice place so I decided we would give it a try.  I thought 17 students for 1 teacher was way too many so I specifically sought out a place with a lower student to teacher ratio.

I knew my son struggled with transitions so I warned the teachers and school personnel about it.  To say adjusting to the new school was a struggle is an understatement.  His first day was rough, but he survived. . . barely.  I got called on Tuesday to come get him because he had hit another child.  When I came to get him I was swarmed by the entire staff.  We talked about my son and his history.  I talked about how he was a head banger when he was little and how after a certain teacher had left his previous school he started to fall apart.  He struggled with transitions, and on and on.

They gave me some advice and I left feeling a little bit better.  I had known the first week was going to be a rough one.

It didn’t get any better.  The next day he continued to struggle.  He hit the teacher, he ran outside and then lost his outside privileges, he hid in the reading corner and tried to hide behind the bookshelf, he cursed.  They separated him from the other kids to calm down and he ate lunch with their behavioral specialist.  This behavior continued through the week.  He was not adjusting at all.

Then it came again… on the following Monday, this school told me that my child was too disruptive and that they thought I should look somewhere else.  They told me my child’s behavior was defiant and the fact that he couldn’t look the adults in the eye when they were trying to talk to him was atypical behavior.  They made me feel like a shitty parent with a deviant child who had behavioral issues.  I knew my child had some issues, but I didn’t believe they were behavioral.  As I slowly pulled pieces together from his experiences in school together, I began to believe my sons’ issues were sensory related.  I felt he became easily overwhelmed by all the transitions and switching of teachers and activities. I felt like he went easily into sensory overload.

In the week he had been at the school I had tried to make him a flip book of the different transitions to try to help him and I was surprised at how many there were.  Start off in the main room with all the children, move to the classroom, circle time, snack time, outside time, lunch time, nap time in a different room, snack time again, circle time again, move into the main room for pick up.  That is an awful lot of transitions for a child that doesn’t do well with transitions.  And honestly, I was just figuring out exactly what that phrase “struggles with transitions” meant.  Actually seeing how many transitions our children make at school kind of floored me, I could only imagine how all the transitions made my child feel.

I called my therapist friend.  We talked, she reassured me that most of his behavior was normal child behavior.  I recalled a conversation we had had previously about eye contact. and how we had talked about how some children don’t look at adults in the eyes because it can feel very threatening, but it’s not atypical behavior, she remembered and agreed.  Together we ruled out a diagnosis of Autism, even though using some techniques that work well with autistic children all worked well for him.  She agreed he probably fell into the category of Highly Sensitive Children and we talked about sensory overload. . . We decided a lot of his behaviors could be classified as normal, but you could definitely tell there were some issues there somewhere.  She didn’t feel like it was behavioral related, we kept coming back to sensory…I felt less like a shitty parent after our conversation, but my stress level was through the roof.  What was I going to do with my son?  I couldn’t quit my job because we need the income.

This was the second stumble of a step on a very long, very hard and tearful journey towards helping my child.

To be continued. . .

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Second Post in SPD Series
Read The First Post Here:  The Day My World Came Crashing Down

Bang, Bang, Bang Goes the Baby

Bang, Bang, BANG. 

You watch in horror as your child smacks their head on the couch, the wall, the floor, their crib, a door, your leg… whatever happens to be closest to them at the moment. You think to yourself, “That was odd,” and hope you were just hallucinating from lack of sleep. 

Bang, Bang, BANG. 

Your child then repeats this odd and rather concerning behavior of banging their head and this being the second time you witness this feat, your throat drops into the pit of your stomach as you realize you were NOT hallucinating. Your child is indeed purposely banging their head on things. Now your whole body is tingling and your mind is racing as minor panic mode sets in. You are convinced there is something seriously wrong with your child, so you do what all mothers do best when they have a problem, you Google that shit. You read article, after article until you come to the conclusion your child is indeed a “Headbanger”.

Research says that about 20% of children are headbangers. Reading statistics like this does not make us, as mothers, feel any better. We don’t want our child to be part of statistics like this, and if it’s so common why do none of our friends children seem to be doing it?

Why is my child banging their head?

There could be many reasons you child is banging their head. Self-soothing, pain relief, an outlet for frustration, attention seeking and in some cases developmental disorders seem to be the main reasons toddlers head bang.  So, great how do I know which category my child falls into?

In the cases of self-soothing and pain frustration, the offenders often bang their head repeatedly or rhythmically while they are playing or when trying to sooth themselves while the crib. Frustration bangers head banging seems to come more in bursts when they can properly express their feelings or become overly stimulated. Attention seekers may head bang when they want attention from you. Head banging can be a sign or a developmental disorder, but I caution you not to burst into tears yet as headbanging alone is not enough to diagnose a developmental disorder and head banging in itself is quite common.

So what do I do?

Some researchers say you should ignore the behavior, that they will outgrow it. That might be easy for them to say but they don’t have to witness this odd behavior several (or a lot more than several) times a day every day. I am sorry, but when my child is doing a behavior to himself that seems hurtful I am definitely not going to stand around to watch the show.  Every time he would smack his head on a cabinet or door, or even the floor I would cringe and fight back tears. There had to be better advice than Ignore the behavior.

We tried holding him when he got frustrated and telling him “No hurt baby,” when he would bang his head.  We tried really hard to make sure he got lots of positive attention.  We rocked him, a lot.  We would place him in a room with carpet, pillows or a bed so he wouldn’t hurt himself (as badly). I figured out my child was a frustration head banger and I engaged other moms for advice. One comment a mother said stood out with me.  She said not to worry too much, that it lessens with time and growing communication skills. We had already been trying to teach the babe sign language, but after this comment we ramped up the signing effort and I also made an extra effort to observe him more intensely so I wasn’t missing any of his communication cues. For us the sign language helped immensely. The more he learned to communicate with us the more the head banging began to diminish.

The experts say that most children outgrow head banging by age three, so between now and then while you are trying to deal with this newly discovered toddler trait, try not to worry too much, keep your child as safe as you can while they are head banging, repeat to yourself, it will be okay.  I found this snippet by Dr. Alan Greene to help me, “Curiously, one large study of this habit in healthy children found head-bangers to be measurably advanced compared to their peers. If anything, then, head banging in healthy children can be a sign of increased intelligence.”  It made me think the problems of head banging might be small compared to the problems that come with a highly intelligent child.