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What This Photograph Doesn’t Tell You About Sensory Processing Disorder

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After a recent trip to the park with my 3-year-old daughter, I found myself looking through the pictures I had snapped with my iPhone. It was a gorgeous day, and she had really enjoyed herself. We both had.

If I posted that smiling picture of her going down the slide on Facebook, it would look like I was just another proud mom (which I am) sharing a photo of her adorable daughter (which she is) after another normal, run-of-the-mill trip to the park.

But because my daughter has sensory processing disorder (SPD), this picture is anything but normal. This photo is extraordinary in every way, and it tells a story that only those closest to her will ever know.

You see, in this photo, she is at a park and she is happy. And that is remarkable.

To a neurotypical child, I’m sure a playground is a wonderful place filled with excitement. To my daughter with sensory processing disorder, it can be a trial by fire, where all her biggest fears assail her.

This photo doesn’t show the hours of occupational therapy we went through to try and teach her to regulate her nervous system in environments that are noisy or full of new things.

It doesn’t show the first two-and-a-half years of her life when putting her in a swing made her wail in terror. Swings provide excellent vestibular input and are great for children with sensory issues, but what about the child who is fearful of sensory input? We couldn’t get her to try the very thing that would help regulate her nervous system.

It doesn’t show us taking her here every single day for six months to try and get her used to the slides and swings and other fun “toys” that every other child takes to so naturally.

It doesn’t show her sensory circuit being overloaded and then blown when another child approaches her or speaks to her.

It doesn’t show the other parents looking at us like we’re being overprotective because we go through the whole playground with her. They don’t know she has to hold our hand so she doesn’t fall because of poor motor coordination. They don’t know that she’s not having a tantrum because she’s mad, she’s having a sensory meltdown because she’s terrified.

This photo doesn’t show all the orthotics and years of physical therapy we went through just to get her to be able to walk, run and climb up a staircase. It doesn’t show kids half her age climbing or sliding past her with ease while she faces challenges.

It doesn’t show the times after the park when I went home and cried, worried she would never be calm enough or “neurotypical” enough to make friends.

This picture doesn’t show any of these things — this picture shows a moment. A small, powerful moment of resilience and strength.

It shows proof of progress. Perhaps her smile on the slide does not factor in when her therapists calculate the percent of her delays, but it factors in to her quality of life.

It shows a child made strong because she must be strong and fight for everything she wants.

This photo shows a beautiful, happy, normal day full of fun at the park. And that’s exactly what it was.

Follow this journey on The Definery Co.

Originally published: September 14, 2016
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