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A soft spot in my heart for occupational therapists February 14, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, Uncategorized, younger son.
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I have had to deal with a LOT of teachers over the years.  I have found that most teachers are trying to get kids to do stuff they don’t really like, but they generally have no other methods than threats or rewards.

My children are notoriously immune to bribery and too pig-headed to let threats be scary.  I don’t think this is a bad thing (at least in the long run), but it is immensely frustrating to parent such a child.  The only thing that seems to work is to somehow find something that is internally motivating or to invite Henry Kissinger to mediate discussions.

On a more serious note, I have found that occupational therapists (OTs) are some of the few people who work with kids and are very in tune with them.  An occupational therapist can watch a kid for a half hour and tell you the various organizing strategies and sensitivities a kid has.

Both my kids have sensory issues.  In the gifted realm, these sensitivities are often referred to as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities (OEs), particularly sensory or psychomotor OEs.  In OT-speak, they are referred to as sensory processing disorder (SPD).  I have to admit that I prefer looking at it from the OT’s point of view.  Dabrowski’s OE are primarily an indicator of gifted children, while children with a wide range of abilities can have SPDs.  Probably more crucial for me, however, is the fact that OTs understand how to deal with the sensitivities so that they can process sensations more normally.  None of this is intended to discount Dabrowski’s work on finding the strong connection between these behaviors (especially the non-sensory OEs) and giftedness.

Several of my older son’s teachers claimed he must be autistic or Asperger’s because he has a large number of sensory issues.  To them, the strange behaviors they saw were simply things that autistic kids do.  Because these behaviors were present, they assumed he had to be on the spectrum despite having two researchers who study autism disqualify that as a possibility.  The researchers said giftedness was his problem.  Unfortunately, OEs and SPD were never part of the conversation so I was under the assumption that the researchers were correct, which they were, but that there was nothing that could be done about it.

Near the end of first grade, an OT evaluated him and said he had sensory integration dysfunction (what they used to call SPD).  Unfortunately, because his functioning was normal, he couldn’t receive therapy through the school.  However, because this person told me what the the problem was, I was able to get him therapy through a medical provider. The OT also told me about the book, “The Out-of-Sync Child”. It is an excellent reference for dealing with these issues.

I have to admit, though, that I’m frustrated. Kids who have SPD or OEs are on a continuum, just like so many other traits that humans may or may not have. Given how many kids a teacher generally sees in a period of 5-10 years, you imagine they’re going to have had at least a handful of kids with these issues. You would think that they would become fairly familiar with them as these kids are likely to be some of the more disruptive, unfocused, or unattentive kids in the class. It’s not their fault: a normal day for most of us is an assault on these poor kids sense of well-being. Yet my experience is that most teachers who have had kids like this still don’t understand how to deal with this type of problem. What’s worse is that some honestly believe that these kids are intentionally disruptive or difficult. Hence, they prefer to use punishment and rewards to try to coax the appropriate behavior out of the child, not realizing the child is probably using every ounce of willpower and still failing.

I am glad to say, however, that my interactions with the half-dozen OTs I’ve dealt with (all of whom specialized in SPD) have been extremely helpful. They really get that kids want to be cooperative but that they’re struggling to deal with their senses. The OTs have so much empathy for the kids and can really understand the problem from the child’s point of view. Better yet, they often have a real, effective solution to the kids’ problems.

For Valentine’s Day, I want to give a very heartfelt thanks to the OTs out there who have helped kids, parents, and teachers navigate this strange world of SPD. Their efforts are very much appreciated.

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