“She’s just quirky.”, “She loves accessorizing!”, “She must be cold.”; this was my repertoire of justifications, every time Gia would come marching out of her room in an entire outfit that would include a jacket, a hat, a scarf, 5 headbands, 3 necklaces, 2 pairs of socks, and even a pair of gloves. It didn’t matter if it was winter or summer, she had this overwhelming desire to cover her body from head to toe. This didn’t happen all the time, but rather in very sudden, and explosive spurts. She would go to various areas of the house, seeking out items to consume her little frame, and it didn’t even have to be clothes; she would sit in a hamper, put a box over her head, or wrap her arm in string. I’ll be honest, it was weird, but it was Gia! My son, Nick always took life a little more seriously, insisted on doing things perfectly, and generally didn’t see much outside the box. Gia on the other-hand, was my free-spirit, she was confident, independent, and did EVERYTHING outside the box, and I loved this about her! All kids are different, right? Well yes, but as Gia got older, I noticed these “quirky habits” were brinking on the edge of obsession. Other caretakers in Gia’s life began to take notice. The very first daycare she went to, gave her a cute little red basket with toy fruit for Christmas. I think their exact explanation for the gift was, “We know she likes to put baskets on her head!”
My husband and I started to look at this as a discipline issue, and as her parents, we needed to fix this rebellious child of ours. Instead of just appeasing her and her impulses, we decided to start telling her no. I stopped helping her with her second pair of socks, I hid all of the headbands, and I put the hamper on top of my dresser; she didn’t take this very well. She started lashing out, both verbally and physically. I figured, this was probably a fairly normal reaction. Gia had an addiction, and I made her quit; this was her detox period, and she was simply having withdrawals. I asked myself why I was doing this, and the best I could come up with, was that I wanted her to be normal. Normal people don’t cover everything but their nostrils when they go to sleep, and normal people don’t put tights on their arms because there’s no more room on their legs. I wanted the best for my daughter, I wanted her to be happy, healthy…..and normal!
After a time, the mom in me kicked in. As I watched my desperate daughter continue her fight for her next “fix”, I knew this was not about tough love; I was torturing her! You could see it in her beautiful little face, she didn’t know what to do with herself. It’s as if she was standing in the middle of this big open universe, and looking at me for answers. There were times when I would kneel down with tears in my eyes, look her straight in the face, and plead with her, “What do you need Gia? Tell me what you need! Tell me what to do for you! Just please tell me Gia, what do you need?”. I knew Gia couldn’t tell me with words, and I didn’t need words to tell me. I knew what Gia needed; she needed my help putting on her gloves, she needed to take a seat in the Costco box, and she might even need a third pair of socks. So that was that, I gave it all back! This wasn’t a matter of not “following through” as a parent, this couldn’t be disciplined out of her; this was so much deeper than that, and until I got to the bottom of it, I refused to torture my daughter any longer.
So what do you do when you don’t know what to do? Well, you google it of course! The more I googled, the more clear it became. Gia seemed to have some form of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Like many, I had heard of this, but always associated it with kids who were over-sensitive to things like texture and touch; Gia was the exact opposite, the more texture and touch, the better. According to my friend, Google, my daughter was a “sensory seeker”. I felt like I was reading Gia’s biography; it was all coming together, and finally making sense. Sensory seekers simply can’t get enough, of anything, literally! They are constantly in search of ways to arouse their starved nervous systems. In short, SPD affects the way someone will process information from the five senses. In Gia’s case, much of her dysfunction lies in her sense of touch. Not only did she need to feel like she was in a cacoon of comfort, but I had always noticed that my dainty and feminine daughter, was quite heavy-handed. She wrote hard, she hugged hard, and she even walked a little hard. Gia needed much more sensation, to simply feel what many of us feel. In fact, she assumes the rest of us are feeling the same way. She just figures I like my back massage just the ways she does, painful and torturous!
Fast-forward to the time of Gia’s Apraxia diagnosis, and my suspicions of Gia’s sensory dysfunction were finally validated by our OT, Heather. She said, that with therapy, she can gain normal processing of her senses, but it takes time. As it turns out, Heather sees other Apraxic children with SPD. Why these two disorders tend to go hand-in-hand, is still a bit of a mystery. There’s so much more to the world of Apraxia than just speech and language. Some findings are showing, that children with Apraxia, are likely to suffer from additional disorders/delays, and it’s actually less common for a child to suffer from Apraxia alone. They are even finding some links to food allergies, which Gia suffers from as well. It’s all so confusing, but fascinating at the same time.
The more I learn about Verbal Apraxia, the more questions I’ve had answered about Gia’s short, but adventure-filled life. In ways, Gia has been quite the complicated little girl, and putting all of these pieces to the puzzle together, is part of my mission in finding out exactly what makes Gia tick. I do know one thing; in her own special way, Gia will continue to tell me what she needs, until she simply doesn’t need it anymore, and I’m here to listen. As parents, it’s our obligation to provide our children with everything they need, and if my daughter needs a second pair of socks, then a second pair of socks she will get!