The Mighty Logo

How I Explained Sensory Processing Disorder to My 4-Year-Old

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

You know that feeling of irritation you get if the tag on the back of your brand new T-shirt is scratching up against your skin? It bothers you until you take the shirt off and take scissors to it, or it drives you to just rip the it off completely, not even bothered if you end up leaving a hole in your new shirt.

What about that pair of socks you thought would fit and feel just right, and half way through your day, you realize they do not feel or fit just right and you are taking them off in a frenzy so you can feel free and breathe.

And then there’s that feeling of having someone put their hand on your back, or trying to hold your hand, wanting to hug you, or even kiss you — it actually hurts you, and you can’t explain it, you just can’t. So you avoid affection because that is your way of protecting yourself from the pain of human touch.

How do I explain this to my beautiful little girl? She’s 4 years old and I didn’t know how to explain it to her. How do I explain it to her in a way she would understand? How do I explain her younger sister has sensory processing disorder?

Zoey is 3 years old, she’s diagnosed with autism, global delay, ADHD, dyspraxia of speech and sensory processing disorder.

That is hard enough for me to understand, never mind my 4-year-old understanding it.

I put it off, and I would say to her that her sister is “different,” and that “different” isn’t bad.

That explained nothing. I was taking the easy way out. She watched as her younger sister had a year of intensive in-home therapies with multiple therapists, all of them with their own special bag of toys, all coming to play with her little sister. My big girl watched, and every day said, “What about me?” I saw the sadness in her eyes, and I watched as my big girl was feeling left out and confused.

She watched as her little sister got so much more attention, and she started to regress herself because “What about me?” was how she felt, and if she was “different” like her little sister then she would get to have all the extra attention and play with all of the therapists’ special toys.

I had no idea what to say, what to do, or how to help them both. I needed to help them both. I took my big girl aside one night and we had a talk in her room, just her and I. I was not sure how this talk was going to go, but it was time to explain it to her in a “different” way.

I looked at my beautiful 4-year-old and I said, “You know how you have “itchies” on your arms and legs (eczema) and they bother you so much that you scratch them until they feel better, but they don’t ever really feel better until Mommy gives you lotion to help?”

My big girl looked up at me and she said, “Yes, those itchies hurt so bad, and I scratch and scratch and it doesn’t feel better until you help me.”

I said, “Yeah, I help you to make those ‘itchies’ not itch so bad. Your ‘itchies’ are on the outside, and we can see them and we know where they are. Well, sissy’s ‘itchies’ are on the inside, and Mommy can’t see them, so I help her by giving her ‘squeezes’ (deep pressure message on her arms and legs) so she doesn’t itch so bad.”

I know that saying she’s “different” wasn’t working for us, and I finally found a way to explain sensory processing disorder to my beautiful big girl.

Follow this journey on Melissa’s Facebook page.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: March 5, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home