Like all of us, Baxter has his own unique sensory processing profile. Part of that has always included a certain amount of tactile defensiveness. He likes a firm touch and deep pressure, and has always sought that out through gross motor activities. As he’s gotten older, his strategies to get this for himself have become more socially appropriate and he no longer stands out in a crowd the way he did when he was younger. Matt and I were amused recently to watch an old home movie in which Baxter lay on a crash pad on our family room floor and begged his 1-year old brother to fall on him over and over. “Fall on me, baby Lyle!” he implored in his high 4-year old voice.
However, we still have mild struggles and the problem that has yet to fade into something that looks more typical has been his complete disgust of lotions, creams, and soaps. He just cannot bear to touch them. At age 8, we are still putting his sunscreen on for him (while his 4 year old brother sits next to him, slathering on his own) because although the feeling of lotion on his body creeps him out it’s nothing compared with having it on his own hands.
Fast forward to this morning. We insisted that the boys take a shower this morning because, well, it had been a while since they’d bathed, to be honest, and we were going to church and then to a friend’s house later. Matt usually does their showers but this morning I agreed to do it. When I realized that Baxter – this very big kid! – was still not helping to wash himself at all, other than holding the shower head, I pushed him to do it. I only asked him to do his own arms for today and gave him a choice of bar soap or liquid soap, but it didn’t matter. I suggested he chew gum, which his OT had said helps kids tolerate sensory discomfort. He would have none of it, and just stood there having a fit. As we all know, once that old anxiety starts to rise, it’s a little hard to negotiate – for mother and child.
You would think – or at least I would – that a mother who understands this stuff, who has always recognized it in her son and helped him adapt and be tolerant of sensory experiences, wouldn’t be so obnoxious with her child. But I was. I got really, extremely, aggravated with him. I used the word “ridiculous” at least 10 times and I’m not proud to say I used the old, “Are you going to go off to college not able to wash yourself with soap?” Yes, I did. (And his answer? “My friends will help me!”) To not try any of the strategies, to just stand there and cry, refusing to budge, really drove me nuts. I finally did one of his arms myself using a soft scrub puff and he was willing to wash the other arm. But honestly? A 10 minute fit?
It’s so hard to know sometimes where to draw the line. What is truly unbearable for him and what is an old habit that needs to be broken? He expects we’ll wash him, just as he expected that we would always get up and pour him some more milk or put his homework away for him. Now he gets up and gets himself more milk and puts his homework away all the time, and he’s proud of himself for doing things on his own. Is this just one more thing, or is it really that uncomfortable? I suspect it’s a combination of the two.
Later, Baxter admitted that it was more comfortable to wash himself with the scrubber than to do it with his own hands, and agreed to try that again next time. We also apologized to each other and he loved it when I shared with him that we are both very stubborn and so when we get into an argument, no one budges. This is only funny after the fact, for the record.
I know lots of you go through situations like this all the time and that there are no easy answers. But if you have any strategies for helping the sensitivity to lotions improve, I’m all ears.
Sunscreen season is coming around again, after all.