It's been summer and though I try to keep a somewhat normal schedule, it's difficult. And without a schedule, I have a son who is easily disregulated. This means that he has trouble functioning, controlling his actions and emotions, and is very easily frustrated. This is not new and is something we have dealt with for what seems like forever, but how I have been dealing with it is changing.

I have started to view this disregulation as a symptom of the faulty wiring in his brain which has occurred as a result of trauma. If I view it as basically an illness, much, say, as I view H.'s seizures, it is easier for me to cope with and deal with appropriately. It is no longer personal and no longer just willful, bratty behavior. Now, I want to say, that I am the last one to want to brush all bad behavior off as organically based. I expect decent behavior from my children and have high expectations of them. But where good, consistent parenting will usually beget appropriately behaved children, it will not help a badly wired brain.

I don't think my comparison to seizures is too far off. With seizures, the fewer a person has, the less likely they are to have them in the future. More seizures hold the promise of still more, while fewer seizures hold the promise of less or no seizures. I have no idea if I am even close to being right, but I have decided that my son's rages are much the same thing. I need to parent him in a way that is going to help to stop the raging. To stop the raging means that I need to keep close tabs on when he is disregulated. I know that I have more than a couple of people who are parenting children from hard places who read this blog, so I thought I would share what is proving helpful in this respect. Some of what I have been doing is adding to his sensory input and other things involve not causing him to start down  path I have no with to continue.

One last thing before I begin my list. By doing this, I am parenting my children very, very differently. What is necessary for my hurt child would not be appropriate for my healthy children and vice versa. I do a lot of explaining to my children about what is fair and how it would not be fair to parent them all exactly alike because that is not what they each need.

Some things that have been working, though not all the time.

  • I cannot push this child (figuratively) into a corner. I cannot force him to do anything and if I present him with a command that seems at all threatening, he will immediately move into fight mode and we're off. I need to go to him if there is a problem and not ask him to come to me. I cannot ask a question which will cause him to incriminate himself and thus force lying. (This is true for any child, actually.) Redirection, like I do with young toddlers, is always the safest course of action if I can manage it. Also, I find that sometimes even small tasks can seem too overwhelming. If I ask him to do something and I sense that he is balking, it is often because the job for whatever reason has become too big. If I offer to help him do it, then I have stopped making it a confrontation where there is a winner and a loser, and have become his partner. Often if he accepts my offer to help, once we have begun he can continue on and finish the task on his own.
  • If becoming disregulated, a change of activity is often helpful. Especially good is one that involves movement... playing outside for instance. In our case, building, drawing, and crafting are also good and help move his brain into a better place.
  • Sometimes crazy behavior is often because he feels out of touch with his body. We have reached a stage where he will sit on my lap while we rock if he feels himself becoming upset. (Sometimes, this is not always a given.) The pressure of being held and the rocking motion helps to stabilize him.
  • Sometimes this sensory seeking masks itself as distractability. To help him focus on doing things such as school work, I purchased a sitting disk. This is an inflatable disk that sits on the chair and mimics sitting on an exercise ball, but without the hug ball. This sometimes provides enough input to his body that he can focus on what he's doing. Other times, he needs more, so he will go a get my 10 pound bag of rice that is usually in the pantry and will put it on his lap and just sit there with it for a while. The pressure is calming.
  • For the same reason, I have been stocking up on celery these days. He sometimes just needs to feel pressure in his mouth. Instead of biting his nails or fingers, the celery provides the resistance he needs. On particularly stressful days, we will move through all of the options more than once.
  • Protein. I keep protein snacks on hand (energy bars, meat sticks, and hard-boiled eggs) and also allow him to pour a glass of milk whenever he needs it. This often has the most consistently beneficial effect. For some children, feeling hunger can cause stress and stress causes disregulation.
  • Avoid things that cause disregulation. This would seem like an obvious one, but more than once I have wondered what I was thinking. For TM, anything that is repetitive for too long puts his brain in a loop that is very difficult for him to move out of. Things with screens are particularly hard to leave. As a treat, his older sister would sometimes let him play with their Gameboys, but I would not be aware of it until a couple of hours had passed. The rest of the day would be shot because he had so entrenched himself in the video game that he couldn't leave it and move onto something else. We now have an agreement that I have to approve all video game us first, and I will set a timer... usually no more than 20 minutes. Not surprisingly, he finds it so engaging, it is often the only thing he wants to do, even though he is allowed to play on it only about once a month. Bike riding, which he loves, can also have the same effect. He needs to switch activities on a regular basis to avoid getting in a rut in his brain which he then can't leave.
Anyone else have something that works for them that I've missed? I'm always open to more suggestions as on more trying days my bag of tricks sometimes runs empty.


mom2super6 said…
I have found that bouncing on our mini tramp reduces the stress level in my son and spinning a few times (like on a bar stool or while playing Simon says) When I see him "stressing" while we are doing school. Also running up and down the stairs a couple of times.
Jennifer said…
Thanks for this post, Elizabeth. Doug is also having some disregulation/sensory issues this summer (along with a higher anxiety level than usual) that I believe come along with the less structured routine of summer. It's helpful to read your suggestions and also to know that we're not the only ones going through this. I did just end up buying him a neoprene vest like the one the OT uses with him at school, but I am not sure if this is helping yet or not. We call it the hugging vest, and when he's wearing it, he usually doesn't want to take it off. (I also regret spending the money; it turns out it is a really simple vest that I could have sewn if I'd managed to look a little harder to find neoprene at JoAnn Fabrics or somewhere.)
Ann said…
I was going to mention Temple Grandin's "squeeze machine"--and to suggest reading her autobiography, Thinking in Pictures--but a neoprene vest would be much more practical! I still recommend the book, though.Obviously her issues are far different from your son's, but something about the way you describe him makes me think the book would be useful to you.
sandwichinwi said…
Yep. Us. And as usual, your comments are extremely helpful. We're reaching that point in the summer where the spinning out of control has gotten out of control.

Thanks for the wake up call.

Anonymous said…
A few other ideas...weighted vest, weight over shoulders (sort of like a "snake" that you put near a draft during the winter, pressure on the shoulders when person is in a sitting position (sometimes it's a lot of pressure and then you can just feel the person become aware of his/her body), have person use monkey bars or a chin-up bar to hang. I've seen a therapist give full body pressure by lying on top of the child. I've seen all of these interventions help regulation. Until you see the heavy pressure work, it's hard to believe that it will. Here are a few more ideas: swinging on a swing, walking briskly with arms swinging, carrying a heavy load (reams of paper, filled water jugs, ). .Everyone is different. Don't give up and keep on looking for what's right.

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