Riding the Wave of SPD

I’ve always loved the water. Growing up in Southern California, I spent most of my summers at the beach. Though I hadn’t hit the waves in years when I met my husband, I was inspired — and motivated — by his love of surfing. Soon we were taking surf trips to Costa Rica, Spain, France, Hawaii, Panama, and beyond. Together. It was a powerful way for us to connect, and we still love it.

Right before I got pregnant with my first son, my husband and I took a surf trip to Hawaii. For a week, we surfed twice a day — once at dawn, once at dusk. The weather was perfect, the waves were perfect, we were in heaven. At Haleiwa, I rode the biggest wave I’ve ever caught and all was right in the world.

About a month after we got back, I found out I was pregnant. After over a year of trying, two rounds of IVF, one miscarriage, and one ectopic pregnancy, I was cautiously thrilled. While I hoped to be back in the water a few months after his birth, I no idea that my life was about to be turned upside down. I didn’t surf again for three years.

Sensory Processing Disorder manifests in different ways for each child. But anyone who has a sensory overresponsive child can relate to my story. My husband and I joke that our older son came out screaming and didn’t stop screaming for three years. It’s an exaggeration, but that’s exactly how it felt to us.

During my son’s infancy, he had colic and reflux, cried constantly, was difficult to soothe, had to be held almost all the time, woke up every hour through the night screaming, and had gross motor delays. As he entered toddlerhood, he no longer had reflux and was calmer during the day, but he continued to wake up screaming every couple of hours through the night, was frightened by other children, became easily overwhelmed in social settings, was clingy, and continued to struggle with gross motor skills. He had trouble on playground equipment, especially when climbing down which requires more motor planning. He was extremely cautious, scared of being up too high, and wanted me next to him at all times.

Those first few years were the most difficult and intense years of my life. I became immersed in my son’s chaotic world and completely lost myself. Surfing and the ocean were a distant memory, but somehow I felt like I was drowning.

Three years after my son was born, I began the slow process of reclaiming myself. I got back in the water and started surfing again. I was rusty, but the first wave I caught was pure exhilaration.

One time I was out in the water with a girlfriend. As we waited patiently for the next set of waves, she shared about a personal challenge. Suddenly, a big set of waves came through. We frantically paddled towards the first one hoping to make it over before it crashed, but we weren't fast enough. There's nothing like a giant wave crashing right on top your head to ignite a feeling of panic!

Once we were safely out of the impact zone and had a moment to catch our breath, my girlfriend had an epiphany. It occurred to her that what she was going through was just like surfing. She felt like she was caught in the impact zone, and she was panicked. But she knew if she stayed calm and centered, the set of waves would pass and she would be able to come up for breath and paddle out into smoother waters.

Yes. That’s just what it’s like parenting a child with SPD.

Some days the conditions are perfect. You feel calm, fearless, and capable as you catch wave after wave, and ride with ease. Then, out of nowhere, the conditions change. The wind picks up, the direction of the swell changes, you can tell something is brewing and all of a sudden you feel anxious. Then a huge set of waves comes through, and you find yourself dead smack in the center of the impact zone. Wave after wave come crashing down on your head.

In this moment, you know that the worst thing you can do is panic. Because that’s when you’re in trouble. If you can calm yourself and trust that the set is going to pass, you’ll be able to withstand the impact and come out the other side. When you emerge, you will come out with more strength and confidence than you had before. With a new readiness to take on the next set.

The next time you’re caught in the impact zone with your child, think of it as riding the wave of parenting. Before you react, stop and breathe. Remind yourself that this set of waves will inevitably pass and soon you'll be in smoother waters. Tell yourself, I've got this. No doubt another huge set of waves will come, but this time you’ll be ready.

Where are you in your parenting journey? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear from you.


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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.