As we’re walking to the car following an after-school speech therapy session, my son abruptly turns right and rushes off toward his classroom door. My protest at this “unnecessary” detour goes unheeded. This boy is clearly on a mission. He opens the door of the classroom and the sounds of singing and guitar-strumming waft out—another student has an after-school music lesson—but my son continues inside, the door closing behind him. I get to the door and open it in time to see my kid place the beads he was twirling into the bin at the back of the room. Then, he turns and heads out of the room again just as quickly. I hadn’t even noticed he was carrying beads, but now his unexpected change-of-course makes complete sense.
I apologize to the music tutor for the interruption and we exit the room, back on track toward the car, but without the beads that belong only at school. There’s another strand of beads waiting in the car, his beads for “home.” These commute to school with us, but stay in the car; if he needs something to spin at school, there’s that bin of fidgets—but these items do not cross the school boundary. Worlds would collide.
My son’s behavior often appears impulsive, sometimes even rude. When he makes an unexpected detour, some might only see that he isn’t following directions, or isn’t paying attention to the task at hand. In my mind, we are getting in the car. In his mind, those beads are the task at hand, and they are going to be painfully out of place if they get in the car with him. When he sees an opportunity to fix something that is out of place, he takes care of it.
Because of this impulse, my son often moves in ways that seem counter to what’s going on. At home, he might run upstairs in the middle of an activity, but there’s no sense in stopping him or scolding him for straying off course. He’ll be back—after, for example, he 1) throws away the beads that just broke (the only trash can he’ll use for bead disposal is in the upstairs bathroom); or 2) checks that the light in his room is correctly on or off (depending on whether the stairway light is on or off, because they must be the same).
If my son is standing in the living room and you ask him to go upstairs, don’t be surprised if he turns in the opposite direction. It took me a few times to understand that he wasn’t ignoring my direction. He is heading upstairs, but there’s a certain pattern for stepping off the carpet onto the tile, and it’s not in a direct line from couch to stairs.
This tendency to veer off in unanticipated ways keeps us on edge as parents when we’re out and about. His movements can lead to dangerous situations. Once, as my husband and son were leaving the golf course, my kid suddenly bolted across the street away from the car. The urgent matter? The Gatorade at the Pro Shop that was calling his name. His impulse to grab one before getting in the car superseded any thought for his own safety.
It’s not just about impulse control, although that’s certainly something we’re working on. This behavior is also triggered by his challenges in communication. Typical kids, I assume, would say something like: “Hey, Mom, I forgot, I’ve got to return these to my class first” or “Hang on a sec, I’ve got to throw this away” or “Can I get a Gatorade? Please? Please????”
My son has difficulty expressing those wishes and often, even the words he finds are misunderstood or dismissed as unimportant sidetracks to the current situation. If his need is strong enough, he will take matters into his own hands. Especially in that crucial moment, when he struggles to find the right words quickly enough to communicate that there is a problem that needs to be solved right now?
He’s got to just do it.
Posted as part of August 2015 Sensory Blog Hop
Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!