After her three year-old son Jacob was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder (SPD), mother and behavioral therapist Rebecca Duvall Scott faced an uphill battle of getting the services needed to address symptoms that impacted her son’s sense of balance and motion, body and social awareness, creating overwhelm for both he and his family.
Now, at almost ten years of age, Jacob is thriving physically, intellectually, and socially. Sensational Kids, Sensational Families: Hope for Sensory Processing Differences is Rebecca’s candid memoir, with question and answer contributions from Jacob’s occupational therapist, Hannah Ragan. The book is filled with research, intervention strategies, and positive mindset shifts to help parents, teachers, doctors, and therapists working with persons experiencing SPD or other pervasive development disorders.
What are some of the early signs that a child may have a sensory processing disorder?
From a professional’s view point, Hannah would say some common behaviors you might observe are: difficulty in social situations, abnormal sleep patterns, delays with toilet training, difficulty in coordinating how to dress themselves or clothing may appear to agitate them, a very selective diet, and delays with communication skills.
From my personal experience, I’ll get even more specific. There are two types of SPD: a seeker and an avoider. Seekers are hyposensitive to the environment, so they will run utterly wild, tear your house down, bump into things, slam doors, drop cups, squeal loudly, be constantly moving, need one of those little child leashes in public … all to fill up their “sensory buckets.” Avoiders, on the other extreme, cover their ears when toilets flush or fireworks burst, need sunglasses more often than not, hate seams in their clothing, can barely tolerate shoes, and get very anxious when routines or expectations change … all because their sensory buckets are always filled to the brim and spilling over. It is also not uncommon for any of these children (or teenagers and adults) to have a high pain tolerance, not be affected by temperature or exhibit both seeker and avoider traits! Welcome to the confusing and frustrating world of SPD. If anyone thinks that a loved one may possibly have SPD, I encourage them to talk to their healthcare provider about undergoing an evaluation.
Why did you choose to have a contributing author write sections of your memoir?
Occupational therapy was a critical component to Jacob’s treatment. His OT, Hannah, and I grew close during Jacob’s sessions … close like two soldiers on a battlefield. She was in the trenches with me most of the time, making herself available even on the weekends so I could develop a large toolbox of intervention strategies and eventually get “back to life.” When I told her I wanted to write about what we had done with Jacob, she said she had always wanted to write a book, too. I knew then it would be the perfect partnership. The raw words of a parent’s experience juxtaposed with the insights of a professional not only could I reach individuals, parents and caregivers of special needs children, but together we could reach professional audiences like teachers, therapists and doctors as well. My experience is valuable, but having her credentials coupled with it is a win-win for everyone.
Please give an example of the most unhelpful advice or words someone gave you. And what are some of the best ways people around you offered support?
The hardest thing about SPD is that it is a “hidden” disorder, and because you don’t have visual clues such as wheelchair or hearing aid, well-meaning people assume it’s not real and blame the child’s maladaptive behaviors on faulty parenting. In our case, the most unhelpful advice came from a doctor, who, after sitting my blubbering 2 year-old in the corner of the exam room (he had been screaming and hitting my legs) and telling him he was in time-out, swung her face back to me and said if I learned how to discipline he’d stop a lot of this. She should have known my background as a behavioral therapist. She should have known by my older child’s “excellent” behavior that I knew how to effectively discipline … that I was a good, conscientious parent and this was more. But she wasn’t listening … not to me, not to Jacob, not to anything but what she had been taught in her textbooks.
So, I gathered up my snotty, overstimulated and “sensed-out” child and left that office for good, and I found people who listened! His occupational therapist taught me so much about SPD. His integrationist taught me how biology played a key role. The moms who ran the local SPD support group that had children older than mine taught me how to not only live with this diagnosis but see the good in it. The best ways people supported us were by listening to our story, trying to understand, and then learning along with us!
When did you know you wanted to write a book?
I’ve always been a writer, but I never imagined my first published work would be about our family. No one in my circle had ever heard of sensory processing disorder, though … not family, friends or even the doctors I was partnered with at the time. As I began learning how to help my son, delving headfirst into research and intervention strategies in search of hope, I dedicated a page on Facebook to keeping family and friends informed about our SPD journey. Well, friends of family and friends started joining the page, then strangers from all over the United States and beyond found us. After repeated requests to put all my knowledge in one place to help other struggling SPD families, Sensational Kids, Sensational Families started to take root within me. I started the manuscript 2 years into Jacob’s intervention, when I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel myself, and finished it 4 years later to be released in March 2020!
Share with us a favorite part or quote from your book.
After a particularly trying day, I asked (Jacob) how he felt when he woke up the next morning. I’ll never forget how he rubbed his sleepy eyes and took time to think about my question. He finally murmured, ‘I feel like a firework. A green one. A dark green one, with a little bit of light green.’ This thoughtful and sensitive boy, who was simply trying his best to fit into this world — this was the boy I had been fighting through SPD to see.” That is my absolute favorite quote of the whole book, especially since the cover appropriately reflects Jacob’s love for green and fireworks. It also gives readers a glimpse into the heart, soul and mind of my sensational kid.
What does your son think about your memoir?
Jacob routinely asks me if he is the star of the book. Most of the time I say no, it’s about SPD and the whole family, but sometimes I look into those twinkling eyes and say yes, you’re the star. He has been raised understanding SPD right alongside of us — learning how it affects him and how it affects others —and he is happy for our story to be told if it’ll help another family going through the same struggles while looking for the bright side.