Yesterday we had to endure the horror of cutting our son’s hair. He is 2 ½ years old and a year ago he developed sensory processing disorder after his stage I surgical repair of a severe birth defect. Hypospadias can range from mild to severe but in Magnus’s case, it was one of the worse defects his surgeon had seen. We were terrified of so many things before the surgery. Magnus was only 18 months old and as parents we had no idea what to expect. Our surgeon is incredible but would the surgery work? Would he be in pain? Would the medications cause any long term effects?
As a naturopathic doctor who specializes in treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders, I was particularly worried about the research that links anesthetic to ADHD. Our family history of ADHD combined with multiple surgeries could dramatically increase Magnus’s chances of having trouble focusing and staying calm. What we didn’t think about was sensory processing. Our older son had experienced behavioural issues related to sensory problems but it didn’t occur to us that our previously neurotypical toddler could experience a sensory crash that would change his life .(and ours)
Magnus’s first haircut was on January 9, 2012. Forever immortalized with the help of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. I couldn’t wait to take the picture because the hairdresser said she had NEVER had a toddler who was so good for his first haircut. My daughter is all pink inside. She loves all things that pamper her beautiful self. We started taking Magnus on our girlie haircut trips and each new hairdresser marvelled at our stoic little man who sat calmly while his hair was coiffed.
On May 22nd, Dr. Luis Braga (a.k.a The Penis Artist), performed the first of 3 surgeries needed to correct Magnus’s birth defect. A defect that mounting evidence is linking to environmental toxins. We were at McMaster Children’s Hospital for 3 days and our little man did remarkably well. So well, in fact, that he was running around MAC high on morphine. The nurses and doctors were shocked that he could be so “mobile” while on 6 mg of morphine!
Encouraged, we took our handsome boy home. We were one step closer to him enjoying a normal adult male life and hopefully being a parent himself one day. I had anticipated the diarrhea. Magnus was on some pretty heavy duty antibiotics to protect the delicate skin graft that was crucial to repairing his hypospadias. The eczema wasn’t a shock either, especially with the NIH Human Microbiome Project pumping out research linking the healthy gut flora (eradicated by antibiotics) to eczema, allergies and asthma. In the beginning, we assumed that tantrums were because of pain. The poor kid had had his genitals sliced and stitched. The fact that his surgery was done by one of the leading (the leading in our opinion) pediatric urologists in the world didn’t negate the fact that pain would make any kid upset.
After a couple of weeks of screaming, crying, biting and hitting; we started to track what was triggering Magnus to be so upset. It was then that I realized that his sensory system had crashed. There was no other way to describe it.
Magnus’s symptoms included:
- Gagging when we tried to feed him.
- Jumping up and down on the furniture for hours
- Getting stuck on one thing, like a song or toy, and losing his mind if he had to transition (Magnus would only play with yellow blocks and listen to Rhianna’s song What’s My Name)
- Bumping into things and people, our daycare provider described it as “wobbly”
- Banging his head into our head or other hard surfaces (this happened when he was frustrated too but it would sometimes seem like he was soothing himself by head-butting us)
- Sudden mood changes and long tantrums including self-injurious head banging, biting and hitting
- Crawling along the floor while he played with toys, crawling up and down the stairs like a snake
- Distressed at every diaper change
- Constant movement
- Toe walking
- Repetitive “circuits” when he played
- Instant tantrum if his shirt got wet or if he got something on his hands and/or feet
- Refusal to put on certain clothes and attempts to constantly remove what he was wearing
- AGONY with getting his haircut!!!!
I am extremely fortunate to work with over 1500 families who have children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sensory issues are very common for children on the spectrum and I immediately went into action mode to see if we could decrease the pain Magnus was experiencing. Because it is painful. If you have a child who screams when they get their haircut or who experiences sensory processing issues; they are in pain. Their behaviour is a communication to you that their body feels attacked by their external environment.
We removed all grains from Magnus’s diet. This approach is called the SCD, GAPS or Paleo diet. The grains can disrupt sensory processing and in Magnus’s case, this was the first major intervention we did that relieved his discomfort. The diarrhea got better, the tantrums lessened but we still had and have a long way to go. We initiated methyl B12 therapy, probiotics, B6, methyl folate (on the advice of the wonderful Dr. Wendy Edwards J). When we added in methyl folate, Magnus started playing with blocks of all colours and would listen to songs from the CARS movie. Next we added a homeopathic remedy called Belladonna, prescribed by Magnus’s ND, Dr. Saunders. His interest in playing with toys typically again increased and he started letting us change his diaper without having to hold him down. Small steps in some ways but big steps towards repairing his brain and getting him back to being able to process sensory information more effectively.
What I have discovered in my 10 years of practicing as a naturopathic doctor; is that sensory issues can be supported through individualized assessment and treatment. They are also strongly related to the gastrointestinal tract. The right diet and supplements can dramatically reduce the pain of trying to process external stimuli for those with SPD. At 2 ½ years old, we are coming up on one year of biomedical treatment for Magnus. Each step brings him further away from his “sensory crash” and allows him to enjoy the world around him. He is off his toes and although he still has transitional tantrums; he is no longer stuck on just one thing. His interests have increased. His language is catching up. He is happy and smiles most of the time. Yesterday we gave him a haircut… and he screamed bloody murder. We ran him down to the shower, like we have since his surgery, and washed off the hair that was causing him extreme discomfort. Today, I realized in my attempt to get his hair cut quickly, I missed a little patch. I pulled out the clippers and got ready for the meltdown but instead Magnus reached for the hair clippers and said “on”. I turned them on and he dipped his head to let me trim the wayward patch. Each step makes a big difference and cumulatively, they have changed Magnus’s life. We hope in another year we can look back, like we did with our oldest son, and say that Magnus has overcome SPD.
Here’s a SPD checklist: http://spdfoundation.net/symptoms.html
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