From the time he was born our son was sensitive. His grandmother would say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Being a sensitive person myself, I knew from the beginning that my son felt things deeply on a physical and emotional level. He spent his first week in the NICU and when he came home from the hospital it wasn’t long before colic reared its ugly head. He was only ever comfortable while I nursed him- which was inevitably all the time. His Nana would say he “never settled” well. Nor did he sleep well. In fact, sleep evaded our family for years.
However, despite the sleeplessness, he was a bright, curious and joyful little boy. Most who met him would say he was a gentle soul. He hurdled his milestones later than most but doctors assured me that it wasn’t unusual. Being my first, I had nothing to compare it to. It wasn’t until he began his school years that challenges began to arise. Anxiety became our new normal. His teachers assured us that he was fine once I left him but as months went on the separation anxiety did not diminish it only worsened and we were at a complete loss as to what to do for him.
He was in a large class of thirty with several students who commanded the teacher’s attention and our son was quiet but distant- and as a result to no fault of her own, she did not seem concerned only to say that he was very day dreamy. Academically she assured me he was doing well and that perhaps he was just simply not being challenged enough at school. We enrolled him into a French Immersion program for grade one.
In retrospect I can now say with confidence that with great challenges come great learning. Very soon after the start of the year the separation anxiety persisted and then we began to see OCD traits manifest. His academics progressed well but his teacher had concerns. She could not understand how he was managing to place at the top of his grade level and yet he seemed to be drifting in and out of his own world- the day dreaming characteristic we had been seen in his JK and SK years.
I began volunteering in his classroom so that I might better understand what she was seeing. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the environment was a huge part of the problem for him. He was experiencing sensory overload. He had -for lack of a better word- “checked out”. He was there in body but not in spirit. The best way to explain it was to say that the noise, the visual academic material painted wall to wall, the energy in the room was just too much for his nervous system.
After much discussion we knew that the environment and the resources of his school would not afford him the environment that would nurture his love of learning. Environment for him was key to bringing out the best of him. He was a completely different child when he felt safe. We also felt that we needed to rule out if there were any neurological issues at play. Reluctantly we had his paediatrician refer us to the appropriate services who could properly assess him for any kind of psychological, or neurological impediments.
All the while, we did manage to find a small private school that offered him a quiet and non-competitive curriculum with a teacher that assured me that all he needed was time. The change of environment was a big help but his struggles were still there. His shyness made it difficult for him to engage with other kids. He seemed comfortable in his own company and he would tell us he was “different” then the other kids.
Preliminary assessments suggested ADHD as well as a possible Learning Difference. The advice was to prescribe medication. The difficulty for us was that the side effects to the medication had an increased risk of worsening anxiety and a likelihood of appetite suppression. For some that might be a reasonable risk to take but for me my gut told me to hold off. I read Dr. Doidge’s book the Brains Way of Healing. It wasn’t long before I contacted The Listening Centre for an appointment. I knew in my heart that this was the gentle approach that would work well with a sensitive child.
From the moment he walked in the door, he seemed calmer. Perhaps it was the grace and kindness of the staff, or the charm and warmth of the centres setting, my son looked forward to his appointments. His listening sessions always brought about changes in him, some were immediate and some took time. From watching his confidence blossom with reading and writing to seeing improvement in his hand-eye coordination. What struck us the most was watching him engage differently with his younger brother. A sense of humour appeared that we had not seen before.
We saw that spirit of his that had been buried beneath months of struggle begin to reappear. His repetitive behaviours disappeared. His new found confidence helped to quell his anxiety with going to school. His teachers noted an overall difference in his demeanor and his attention. His grandparents and his aunts and uncles have seen the improvements and all attribute his gains to the Listening Centre.
What we most appreciated was their professionalism and expertise. They offered insights into how our son experienced the world around him. It was a game changer for us, all of us. We learned that his challenges stemmed from a Sensory Processing Disorder. Living with such a disorder can have a multitude of challenges in all aspects of life but knowing what can help and what doesn’t help is essential. It made complete sense that a child with SPD would have anxiety- how could you ever feel safe in a body that was overstimulated by its environment?
What I found most profound in our experience with the Listening Centre was their ability to see beyond a diagnosis. Irrespective of what label(s) the child was met with, they see the child first. They meet the child where they are at and intuitively know how to work at a pace with a program that is tailored to the individual child. It was a remarkable experience and one I will never forget. We will always be indebted to Mr. Paul Madaule for his important work, and especially to Morana Petrofski, the Co-Director at the Centre, who has been Kenny's consultant and primary source of encouragement to me. And to all the remarkable and inspired team of therapists at The Listening Centre, thank you.