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When My Son With Anxiety and SPD Participated in the School's Christmas Concert

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Our 5-year-old has sensory processing disorder (SPD) and high levels of anxiety. Like other families who have kids with disabilities, we have invested a lot of resources in our child to help him cope with what feels to him to be a “hostile” environment.

Last night was our son’s kindergarten Christmas concert. For most parents, this can be a joyful time full of pride, happiness and camera flashes. But for the last two years, Christmas concerts have been difficult for our son. His first year of preschool, he was overwhelmed with anxiety and experiencing a complete sensory overload. At the following year’s Christmas concert, our son stood on that same stage, motionless. For him, standing motionless was a success from the year before.

I once heard sensory overload explained as “everything coming at you all at once.” Imagine you can hear things, maybe even feel things, that make it hard to function. You might feel frozen, completely stuck and overwhelmed by the sounds, smells and sights all around you, unable to process it all. I can’t even begin to understand how difficult Christmas concerts are for our son: the bright, hot lights shining down, the loud music and the crowd of proud parents clapping and cheering for their children, the array of different smells from an auditorium full of people. It must be awful for him.

So, last night, as his class took the stage and filed up onto the risers, marching one by one, I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer that he would make it through the next five minutes with no anxiety and no sensory overload. One song — that was all I was hoping for.

The lights dimmed. The music to “Up on the Rooftop” began, and his peers all began to sing. And there he stood — back row, second from the end — looking adorably perfect, but motionless. That familiar lump in my throat started rising as my husband reached over to hold my hand. In that moment, we thinking “Ok, this again. This is not so bad. He’s going to make it through.”

But then, his lips began to move ever so slightly, followed by his hands. And by the middle of the song, he was dancing and singing along loudly with the rest of his classmates. The lump in my throat soon dissipated and tears of joy were streaming down my face.

I knew how difficult this must have been for our boy. How hard he must have worked at school to master the actions and remember the words. How anxious he probably was with all those eyes staring at him. What his senses might have felt with those hot, bright lights beating down on him. But he persevered. And in that one moment, we knew all the sacrifices and hard work over the past few years were worth every single second and every single dollar. It truly was our very own Christmas miracle.

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Originally published: December 19, 2017
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