To the Future Teacher of My Son With Sensory Processing Disorder
Dear future teacher,
We are going to need to work closely together, so this first impression is really important. I have started this letter several times. And deleted each one. Should I make this short and sweet? Very professional? Should I go over this in person instead? Should I appeal to the mom in you? Should I let it all out right from the start?
Here it goes.
My son, Jake, will be in your class this year. I know you know who he is. He’s the one his first-grade teacher had carrying heavy books to your room to help him self-regulate. Jake has sensory processing disorder, which may make your job challenging at times. Your approach to this could make or break his day and his year.
I know you probably also know who I am. I volunteer a lot. While I’d love to say this is because it’s my nature to serve the community, my main goal is trying to help my son get through each day. While I hadn’t searched Pinterest before, now I volunteer to be class mom and scour the site so I can plan activities that are fun for kids but that my son can also tolerate. Parties are hard with all that extra noise, different foods, and games and crafts that require him to rely on his gross, fine and visual motor skills. I volunteer to serve pizza or sell ice cream during lunch periods so I can bring a hot lunch to my son that fits his limited diet. The pizza on pizza day isn’t the same temperature he’s used to, and I’ve watched him physically gag trying to get it down. I go on class trips so I can talk him through bus rides (I drive him every other school day) and zoo trips when he says under his breath about how he’d rather be at school doing math. He’s a fan of routine, and class trips change that.
Certain parts of the day are scheduled to be fun breaks from the academic rigors of the day, such as lunch, gym, assemblies and recess. But for my son, those parts of the day can be more challenging. They can create perfect storms of his challenges with sensory over-responsiveness and motor skills. When a child has sensory processing disorder, it can be an onslaught of sensory information all day.
When there is a meltdown, please consider if it is related to his sensory processing. For example, was he sitting close to classmates during an assembly? He is so tactile defensive that he doesn’t wear socks. Sitting close to people in a crowded auditorium is hard on his body. Consider what happened before this meltdown. If you think this is sensory-related, please don’t treat it as misbehavior. Of course, he is 7 and sometimes just misbehaves, and we realize that, too. It’s tricky to differentiate, and we struggle with it too, but it’s important that you do.
Many of his positive attributes are tied to his sensory processing too. He feels so much, so he’s often aware of how everyone else may be feeling. His vocabulary and sense of humor are very advanced, but he might use this (by cracking jokes, for example) as a way to compensate for the times he feels behind in other areas.
Being a mom to a boy with sensory processing disorder can be a fine balance. It’s fighting for services for a boy who excels academically but has challenges during recess. It’s having faith to let go and hand him over to you, even though I spend each day guiding him through activities. It’s trying to explain these challenges in enough detail so you truly understand without coming off as “that mom.” As a former teacher, I knew her — the one who might seem a little too overeager or involved. As a mom of this boy, it’s sometimes embracing being “that mom.” Because if I hadn’t, I truly don’t know where we would be right now.
Sometimes sensory processing disorder can make a child feel like a square peg in a round hole in our current educational settings. Thank you for working on this puzzle together. As parents, we will do anything possible to help him, and you, have a successful year. Thank you for all you do.
A mom of a child with sensory processing disorder
Image via Thinkstock Images