Sensory Integration, Bolles style: Riley is now six.
"Is this what it's like?" All day yesterday the thought went through my mind. "Is this what it's like to not have a kid on the spectrum?"
Riley and Seth played all day without incident. Usually I hover about, micro-managing, because she just can't deal with the twists and turns of spontaneous play.
We completed the 12 day Bolles Sensory Learning program Friday and are continuing a home therapy piece for the next 20 days. It's much like the Berard Auditory Integration Program, but a bit more. A visual piece and a motor component are included in the Bolles therapy.
At first I was concerned. Won' t the child be overwhelmed with so much input? The director assured me it's just the opposite. She said the senses are so intertwined that it's actually more stressful to work one sense in isolation.
Okay. I guess that makes sense?
The child lays on a table that rocks gently back and forth. The headphones go on. There is a little box above the child's head with a circular light in it that blinks on and off in various colors. Other than the blinking light, the room is completely dark. It gives you the effect of a black light, (or green or magenta or orange) slowly fading to blackness and then coming on again. It sounds strange, but it was actually a very relaxing, womblike experience. The first day, I laid on the table with Riley, but after that she was comfortable with me just sitting in a chair beside her. My child that is afraid of everything would hop up on the table, ready to go. The sessions are 30 minutes and must be done twice a day with three hours in between.
The fourth day, in between sessions, I took the kids to a nearby park. Riley often has a hard time at parks. She is terrorized by the sound of kids screaming. She's afraid of them bumping into her, or crowding her on play equipment. She loves to swing, but will scream in a panic if a child walks in front of her, even with great clearance. Her visual/spatial system is not accurate and she is convinced she will hit them. "Get away! Get away!" she screams (not a great way to make friends). At school she sticks close to her teacher, too scared to interact with the other kids on the playground.
This park had two elaborate sprinklers that looked like showers. Each shower had four heads, and when the spray came on it was pandemonium. About 30 kids ages 7 on down were running through the water, shrieking with joy.
"Mommy, did you bring our bathing suits?" Riley asked.
Astonished, I said, "Yes, do you want to go in the water?"
"Yeah!" both kids shouted.
I hustled to the van, stripped them down and quickly put on their bathing suits. They ran toward the water. Kids were screaming! Kids were bumping her. The sun was bright! The water was cold! At one point the kids started to all run together around the periphery of the sprinkler area. Riley ran with them. Around and around in a gaggle of kids she was laughing and having fun! A couple of older boys got rough. She avoided them, but stayed in the play. She slowly backed up to the spray several times and smiled at her own bravery. I called Todd at work from my cell phone, lump firmly in my throat. As soon as I heard his voice, the tears came. Why didn't I have my video camera???
By day 7, we saw some things that troubled us a bit. She put toilet paper in her mouth, and stuck her foot in the potty! The director told us that sometimes during the program kids revisit developmental stages they may have missed. I thought about it and sure enough, Riley never went through an oral stage when she was a baby. I never worried about her putting things in her mouth (or the toilet, for that matter)!
Another new development, she's been teasing Seth mercilessly. She never quite got the concept of teasing before. She'd try. She'd walk up to him and say, "Seth...I'm teasing." But then had no game. Now, she's figured out plenty of ways to push his buttons and has also discovered her competitive streak, wanting to "win" at everything.
The little insecure girl that always clung to my hand is marching 20 feet in front of us on our evening family walks. She's strutting ahead with a total attitude, occassionally looking back just to make sure we're far enough behind her.
The other day, at yet another park, a child walked in front of her swing. Her body tensed, she grabbed the chains tighter, but then he passed. She looked at me and said, "Whew. I thought he was getting a little close." I had to restrain myself from jumping up and down with joy!
She's had a couple of meltdowns but has started to articulate her feelings during them. "I'm so mad! I'm so mad!" or "I don't like you, Mommy!" She never had words during these moments of frustration before.
Yesterday she came upstairs from the playroom dressed up like a princess. She's had dress up clothes for two years but has never worn them (too itchy, doesn't like anything pulled over her head). She walked down the hall and stood in front of the full length mirror, admiring her princessy self. Yesterday, when she played with her brother for three hours with no screaming. I walked around the house, not sure what to do? This is what set my mind to wondering, "Is this what it's like?"
I've been in the game long enough not to jump to any conclusions that she is "cured." Today she did scream a couple of times, but not like she used to.
Is her sound sensitivity gone? I'm not sure. Even if it is, I know it will take a lot of work to untrain the fear that is associated with certain noises. For now, she definately seems more secure, and better able to cope. The program director said we can expect to see progress for months to come.
Was it expensive? Yes. Very, and not a cent covered by insurance. Was it worth it? Yes. Very. The day under the sprinklers alone, was priceless.