I’ll never forget watching my five-year-old son stand on the edge of the stage, crying silent tears and hiding his face during the school holiday program.
It wasn’t typical stage fright. As my first-born, he'd always been sensitive to lights, noise, and crowds. He'd also been recently diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, OCD, and anxiety disorder.
Part of me was frustrated – all of the other children were angelically singing their part while their proud parents documented this milestone on video. I wanted that experience, too! And all of me was sad, because I could see that my child was clearly hurting, and I knew it wasn’t his fault.
Over the years — my son is now 14 — both of us have grown and learned a few tricks for navigating life's various situations.. Here are some things I’ve learned about making things easier for my OCD/sensory sensitive child to experience success in school:
Those pep rallies, movie days, and field trips that seem like a reward to other students are a nightmare for sensory sensitive children.
Don’t insist that she play games at the class party or sign up for the overnight trip to the zoo. But do encourage her to participate when and how she can – make Valentines to hand out, wear earplugs during movies, and ask the teacher if another reward – a book or homework pass – can be substituted for other items or experience known to cause sensory overload.
In the beginning, I would meet with my son’s teachers and explain his diagnosis. But as he got older, I encouraged him to speak with the teacher himself when he had an issue in the classroom.
His teachers proudly let me know when he negotiated personal space (like designating a specific spot at the lunch table in middle school), or wrote reports on relative subjects when he couldn’t attend field trips.
Of course, I'll gladly step in if he needs me, but I’m confident now that he can voice his own concerns.
As a parent, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s difficult for your child. But children with sensory processing disorders, OCD, anxiety, and other conditions can – and do – excel in school settings.
Instead of focusing on how she can’t attend band camp with her peers, rejoice in that amazing poem she wrote in English class, or another recent triumph.
My son has come a long way since that first moment on stage. Last year, he stood in front of hundreds of classmates and their families to speak at his 8th grade graduation. It was a moment I would never have predicted, but one that proves that with loving support, our children are capable of so much more than we imagine.