On Sunday morning, the whole family headed to Home Depot to buy play sand. When we returned from the store, Peter replaced the little-used toboggan with the sand box in the back yard. He loaded the first of three fifty-pound bags that we purchased at the store.
I don’t know how many bags of sand a typical family goes through, but we anticipate that we will have to buy more before the weather turns too cold to play in the sand box. Philip loves to throw things, sand included (you can see him in action in this post). Eventually, he empties out the sand box, so we have to reload it with another fifty-pound bag.
When I took him to the yard, the lid was on the sandbox. His first impulse was to climb on it. Realizing that he was slipping, he decided to dig in the dirt beside the turtle.
I pushed the lid to the side so that Philip could glimpse the sand inside and be reminded of what this object is. As soon as he saw the sand, he moved the lid to the side and reached tentatively inside.
As he let the sand pour through his fingers, I got a smile of recognition.
He began to reach a bit further into the sand box.
Soon he was up to his elbows.
And then he went all in.
If you look at this last picture, you will see that Philip is seated in a manner knows as the “W” position. I’ve recently learned that this is a sign of low muscle tone. I learned this after a friend invited me to join a private Facebook group called Sensory Parents. The group is run by an OT named Angie Voss (you can check out her website here).
In addition to increasing my own awareness and understanding of autism, I’m also trying to wrap my head around Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). As was telling a friend, the more I learn about SPD, the more frequently I have “aha!” moments. After winter break, the OT who runs the program at Philip’s preschool demonstrated several sensory activities that we could use at home. She had limited time in which to explain the why behind each suggestion. And even after I’ve done some reading, I still not confident that I can explain why the mini-trampoline helps Philip, but I see the results. The same thing goes for the fabric tunnel.
I still only know enough to be dangerous, so reader beware as I share my limited understanding of SPD. I’m still learning the language and concepts myself. What I know is that the disorder is characterized by either over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness to sensory input. The disorder leads children to either seek or avoid sensory input.
In children with autism, repetitive behaviors are often a symptom of the struggles they face processing sensory input. Now, we all have “Calgon, take me away!” moments. You can check out this post to see how you self-regulate in moments of sensory over- or under-stimulation.
For Philip, there are times the he is a sensory-avoider. Check out this post to see him hiding away in small, dark spaces or read here to learn about his eating habits. However, when you look at him in his sandbox, you are witnessing him as a sensory-seeker. He lets the sand run through his fingers to feel its texture on his skin. He added dirt from the yard to increase the visual appeal of contrasting colors. He throws the sand in the air to enjoy the physical act of throwing and to watch the sand in the air.
I took the picture below during breakfast on Saturday morning.
I have yet to figure out how to interpret this behavior. I remember trying to describe this action to pediatricians and during the autism screenings. This is the first time I’ve even gotten a picture of Philip in action, although that wasn’t my original intention. No, I’m not trying to smother my child. Philip had grabbed my hand and pulled it to his face. At first, it might seem like he is avoiding the flash of the camera or the other visual stimuli. But I tend to think he is seeking the physical input of my hand pressing onto his face. Sometimes, rather than my hand, he will pull my face onto his face.
It is at moments like this that I long to understand what Philip is thinking. Maybe some day I will.