How Ketchup, Mustard & Relish Helped Me Make Sense of Sensory Processing Disorder
When my son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, I thought it was the strangest thing I’d ever heard of. Here I was, working in health care – specifically writing about children’s health topics – and I had NEVER heard of it.
The therapist who evaluated my son said he was a “bumper and crasher,” which means that he was under sensitive to touch. He was barreling through life with tremendous force…slamming doors, hugging his friends and cousins too hard, knocking down full water glasses at the dinner table, and bowling me over with affection as I walked in the door from work.
I searched online for anything that could help my husband and me understand this sensory processing THING we were dealing with. That’s when I came across Carol Stock Kranowitz, MA, and her books, The Out-Of-Sync Child and The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun. On her website, the former preschool teacher describes sensory processing disorder (SPD) like this:
“SPD can cause a bewildering variety of symptoms. When their central nervous systems are ineffective in processing sensory information, children have a hard time functioning in daily life. They may look fine and have superior intelligence, but may be awkward and clumsy, fearful and withdrawn, or hostile and aggressive. SPD can affect not only how they move and learn, but also how they behave, how they play and make friends, and especially how they feel about themselves.”
After a few days of non-stop reading, I did what any mom would do for her child…
I made Evan a hot dog. Actually, I made him INTO a hot dog.
Following Kranowitz’s directions from her book The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun, I laid out a blanket and had Evan lie on it. I told him he was my hot dog and it was up to him to decide what “condiments” he wanted me to put on him.
“Ketchup!” he said. Using heavy pressure, I pressed my hands into his arms, back and legs as I pretended to smear ketchup on him.
“Relish!” he said. Using my fingertips, I poked deep into his muscles from his shoulders to his feet.
“Mustard!” he exclaimed. More deep pressure.
When we were done with the condiments, I rolled up Evan in the hot dog bun (the blanket) and continued to press down on him with heavy hands.
This sounds a bit brutal and DEFINITELY crazy. But my rambunctious boy who was always in motion was now still. Focused. Calm. Gentle.
From that moment, I was a Kranowitz-convert. Using other activities from the book that provided deep pressure and heavy muscle work, we learned how to calm Evan’s sensory needs so that he didn’t need to barrel through life with such force.
While I STILL didn’t know just exactly what I was in for in the coming months, I knew then that I would do anything – no matter how crazy it seemed – to help my child.
Read my previous columns to see how we started our road to Evan's autism diagnosis, and follow over the next few months as I share what we learned along the way.
The Beauty of a Brass Doorknob
God (and an Autism Diagnosis) Is In the Details