Tearful, tantrum-filled goodbyes are common during a child’s earliest years. Around the first birthday, many kids develop separation anxiety, getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else. Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling.https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sep-anxiety.html
Separation anxiety rears its head most often at the 8-month to 1-year-old mark; give or take. At first, most parent’s find it unsettling, and often feel just as upset as their little one. Later on, it becomes more of an inconvenience. They all eventually grow out of it, though.
My 4-year-old daughter is most definitely a mama’s girl. She went through separation anxiety as an infant, and again pretty significantly when she first started daycare. I expected as much, and was totally prepared to deal with it the best I could. While it was hard on both of us, it also made me realize and feel just how deeply we were connected, even at her young age. There is nothing like the love for and the love from your child. Nothing.
My now 3-year-old son was/is a totally different story. As an infant, he cried when he was hungry or had a physical need, but he had no reaction or preference to who it was that fulfilled that need. He would happily sit with or engage with anyone. He never once fussed when I left him somewhere; not even his first day of daycare. He always seemed to be in his own world and really didn’t care who was around, as long as his needs were met. He never really made eye contact with anyone, and never had any reaction to someone saying his name. It was often near impossible to get his attention. As time went on, this was all definitely a BIG red flag.
We expressed our concerns to his doctor, and he was eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder.
Did I worry about whether my son and I truly had a connection? Of course I did. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t have the thought at least cross their mind. I was in no way being shown that I was anything other than a service provider for him. That’s hard to type, and hard to admit, but I want to be completely transparent. It in no way changed how I felt about him though; NO WAY. He was still a part of me and his father. Although he was different from my other child, he was chosen to be mine. He needed me, and I needed him.
My son is a “seeker”. This comes along with his diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, which is a diagnosis that very often goes hand-in-hand with autism spectrum disorder. His senses do not appropriately process the input of things (ex: smell, taste, pressure, sight/light, etc.). A seeker is seeking more input; more pressure, more light, more noise, more taste. Therefore, my son loves to rub on or against anything. He slams into things. He chews on any and everything. He spins. He flaps. He squeals. He licks. He jumps and jumps and jumps. He likes to push his head against things. He likes to be squeezed (on his terms). He likes to rock back and forth. He likes to feel and squish his food. He likes to take his food out of his mouth after it’s chewed. He likes to do anything that provides him with sensory input. Therefore, he is very accepting of hugs and sitting near people for sensory input. He will even wrap his little arms around my neck and return a hug. For this, I am very thankful. He will even let me kiss his cheeks. As he becomes older and more aware, these hugs and kisses mean more and more because they are reciprocated and not just appreciated for the sensory input. In those times of struggling to feel connected, his sensory seeking was a welcome recourse.
The opposite of a “seeker” is an “avoider”. An avoider avoids all forms of sensory input and attempts to lessen input. For example, they may plug their ears or need headphones to deal with loud noises. They often have aversion to certain textures and feelings. They like to do anything that provides them an escape from sensory input.
It is actually possible to have the tendencies of both a seeker and an avoider. For instance, my son is definitely a seeker, but he does have some avoider tendencies with certain textures. He has a huge aversion to Play-Doh and putty type textures, which we have been working on. He also has an aversion to smooth textures of food such as yogurt, mashed potatoes, etc. We are working on this as well.
Now that you have all of the backstory information, I can share what I’m actually here to share…
A few weeks ago, during my son’s ABA therapy session, there was a new registered behavior technician (RBT) working with him. His ABA therapist was also present and observing the session. I was in the waiting room.
After a while, his ABA therapist asked me to come outside where they were playing on the playground equipment because my son was upset. I got outside and got his attention and he stopped crying and was no longer upset.
It turns out that his ABA therapist had left the room to go get something during the session, and once she left him alone with the RBT, he got upset. Once the therapist returned, they still could not get him calmed down, so they tried taking him outside to play without success.
For the first time ever, my son had a case of separation anxiety. He was not familiar with the RBT yet, and his therapist he sees 3x a week wasn’t around, and he realized it. You guys, THIS. IS. HUGE. My son has become aware enough that he is noticing who is around him. He missed me, and I was able to make him feel better with just my presence, which has NEVER happened in the past. This is a milestone. This is big for his safety as well. I always worried about him (still do) because he is so friendly and has ZERO stranger danger and no awareness of danger in general. We are seeing a step in the right direction now. I hope his awareness continues to improve.
The thing with autism, is that often those diagnosed reach milestones at a much slower pace IF they ever even meet certain milestones. Therefore, we never know what to expect, but it sure makes it all the more exciting when one of the milestones is hit.
Here’s to milestones and inchstones.