“No! No! Stop! AAAAAAAAAAAAA!” Bryanne covered her ears, rocking back and forth, as I tried to comfort her. Usually her favorite song, something about “Down By The Bay” had triggered this reaction. I tried to remember all the things her occupational therapist said might help to calm her. I held her on my lap, applying gentle pressure to her chest. I talked to her in a soothing voice. At least I attempted to make it soothing. Sometimes I think she feels my frustration almost as strongly as I do. It wasn’t working.
The occupational therapist said that music could help, so I signed Bryanne up for Mini-Musician classes for preschoolers. The class coordinator knew our situation, but the other parents did not and gave me judgmental looks. I knew they thought our sitting in the back of the room was not sufficient, that I should take her out of the class.
“I’m sorry; I played a wrong note just before she started screaming.” The instructor seemed genuine in her apology and her concern. “She must have been able to pick up on the mistake.” With Bryanne no longer screaming, the other parents looked shocked at the observation, but still not pleased with our presence.
Should I explain her behavior? Did I understand it that well myself? I need to do what is best for my daughter, not what is convenient for everyone else. Yet, I don’t want to be rude and interruptive. I will feel horrible if one mother pulls her child because of Bryanne. Lord, give me wisdom and patience here.
Bryanne was calm for the few songs, until the instructor started to hand each child an instrument, pulling an assortment of drums, tambourines, and maracas from her bag. I knew Bryanne would not be able to tolerate the instruments. The coordinator had promised to limit their use to the last five minutes of class and Bryanne and I could leave during their distribution.
“Stay, Mommy, stay. I want a drum!” Bryanne kicked and screamed as I took her from the room. If only I had left a few minutes earlier. What preschooler could hold an instrument quiet until asked to play? Definitely not the ones in this class! Before we even reached the door, Bryanne covered her ears and started to scream again. I knew I would have yet another bruise from her kicking.
“Ma’am, wait up!” I turned to see one of the mothers from the class, son in tow.
Great, now comes the invitation not to return to class. God, give me the words to be nice to this person. I’m having a hard time dealing with Bryanne right now, I don’t think I can deal with rejection also.
“Hi, my name is Mari. I’m sorry about the looks you received from most of the parents, but you handled it well. My nephew’s autistic and has similar reactions , sometimes worse. He would have tried to hurt himself or everyone in the room with the noise from the instruments”
“Bryanne’s not autistic. We had her tested.” And I’m getting testy myself.
“I didn’t mean to imply she was. I studied sensory defensiveness and although common in children with autism, it can be totally separate. Does she react to things other than noise?”
“She won’t eat soft foods, either, but the music is the worst. People seem to understand a picky eater, but not a picky listener.” I knew I shouldn’t vent my frustration on this stranger even if her facial expressions remained friendly and understanding.
“Most people don’t understand that it can actually be painful for someone with sensory defensiveness to experience certain things that we may think are pleasant, especially music.” Mari opened the door of the van next to mine. “If this class doesn’t work out with leaving before the instruments, try private lessons. My brother did that for my nephew. The teacher could better control of how many sounds he presented at once. Sometimes it is the quantity of sounds, rather then the volume.”
“With Bryanne it tends to be crowds and certain noises that I normally tune out, like the ceiling fan. It was nice meeting you, but I need to get Bryanne to her therapy appointment.”
“I’ll see you next week, then?”
“Yes. And, Mari, thanks for everything. You don’t know how much I needed this.” I finished buckling Bryanne into her car seat as I praised God for this new friend.
Note: Sensory defensiveness is a negative, “fight, fright, or flight” reaction to sensory input that most people would consider positive or neutral. Auditory defensiveness may mean an intolerance of high-pitched sounds, like a ceiling fan, or multi-leveled music. Oral defensiveness can be towards certain flavors, textures or temperatures of food.
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