Someone asked me a few days ago if Monkey will ever outgrow his sensory issues, and I struggled to answer that coherently because yes, of course he will, and no, not really. Sensory sensitivities are the result of a somewhat differently-wired neurological system, and though it will vary from person to person and age to age, it does seem like the relative immaturity of a younger brain struggles more than an adult who’s had time to toughen up and adapt.
For example, I think it’s pretty clear to us, as his parents, NOW (though not before, because back when we were kids, this stuff was never labeled/addressed/treated), that Monkey’s dad has some similar sensitivities. Obviously, as an adult he handles things differently than a kid would. That gives me some hope in terms of eventual adaptation.
And these days, I need hope. I need lots of hope. It helps to stave off the worry.
Part of Monkey’s particular package of sensory quirks is that he’s prone to repetitive movements. They soothe him, both with their regularity and with the sensory input they provide. One might say this is a perfectly acceptable and even adaptive way to cope, or one might say OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MONKEY, STOP KICKING THE TABLE LEG! There’s a not-so-fine line between letting your child self-regulate and being driven out of your mind by a CLUNK…CLUNK…CLUNK of whatever he’s decided is the movement du jour.
As he’s grown older, the social acceptability of the things he really craves—large, full-body movements, and emitting LOUD sounds—has diminished. In kindergarten it was perfectly okay for him to spin in circles with his arms held out like a pinwheel. In third grade, well… yeah. And never let it be said that Monkey doesn’t adapt; he’s trying so hard. Good lord, if I had a nickel for every night I cursed the combination of that giant brain of his with all those misfiring neurons, I would have a REALLY NICE CAR, is all I’m saying. He feels the scrutiny of his peers. He tries to find ways to fulfill that need he sometimes has for sensory input that won’t draw the attention or ridicule of the other kids.
So he chewed pencils. Chewed them up to bits, until I explained that splinters in your lips are painful, and also that it’s hard to get your work done when you’ve eaten all your writing implements. We got him to stop, and then he started biting his fingernails. He bit them down until his fingertips bled and still he nibbled, unconsciously, as he sat buried in a book.
There was a brief period of time when he was pinching himself. It sort of looked like a very amorous kitten had given him many tiny hickeys.
Oh, I’d almost forgotten this one—there was a while, a few years back, when he was unraveling his shirts. He’d find a thread at the wrist and just fiddle with it until one arm was all ragged. I wasn’t very patient with that one, I’m afraid.
It’s nearly always been SOMETHING with him, is my point. Where there is Monkey, there is some sort of nervous fidget.
I think it was over winter break that he figured out that if he rubbed his hair JUST SO, it would poof into a brillo-like cloud which pleased him to run his fingers over in times of stress. I’m not sure how he was doing it, but the result was similar to backcombing. A section would be a snarly mess requiring shampoo, conditioner, and an extensive comb-out to return to a normal state.
I begged. I threatened. I cajoled. I told him he had to stop, it was ruining his hair. I told him that if he couldn’t stop, we would have to cut it.
And then, suddenly, he stopped. To my amazement. I figured the latest haircut threat had really gotten through, and he’s SO attached to his mane, he’d found the willpower to cease and desist.
Another habit didn’t surface to take its place, either. Not right away, anyway.
I’m not sure how long it’s been going on (and so don’t know how guilty I have to feel for maybe not having figured it out right away), but it finally became apparent what Monkey has substituted for the hair-snarling.
He’s pulling his hair out.
Pulling. His hair. OUT OF HIS HEAD.
My beautiful child has a (growing) bald spot. And I begged and cajoled and threatened and he’s trying, he really is, but half the time he doesn’t even know he’s doing it, and the other half he swears his fingers have a mind of their own.
When he got home from school yesterday, in addition to the bald spot he now had a section of—for lack of a better descriptor—bangs. He figured it was progress that he was only breaking the hair off halfway up, rather than plucking it out at the root. I suppose it was. But the combination of the past-the-shoulders hair, the bald spot, and the short section? He was starting to look like he had radiation sickness.
We sat down and had A Serious Talk. I pulled him onto my lap and hugged him close, wishing (as I always do) that it could be possible to take on his demons, myself, so that he can be free to just be the awesome little boy he is. We snuggled. We discussed. Chickadee joined us, and patted her brother and held his hand and told him she’d give him a special treat AND one of her stuffed animals, afterward.
And then he let me cut his hair.
Chickadee read aloud from a book he chose, while I did, pausing mid-sentence at one point to exclaim, “Oh my gosh, Monkey, you look like a BOY again!”
And it’s true; he went from this, looking like a girl, to this, an unmistakable boy. I was able to blend in the broken bits and cover up the bald part pretty well in the front, too, so it just looks like a regular haircut.
He was surprisingly unperturbed. Possibly the fact that his sister decided to get a haircut, too, helped him along. For her, we carefully measured; we’ll be sending this beauty off to Beautiful Lengths to become part of a wig.
We celebrated with Thin Mints and Samoas, the way God intended. Monkey also got to adopt one of Chickadee’s stuffed puppies.
Otto arrived home last night and asked where I got the two new kids, and what had happened to the old ones. They mugged and posed for him and then later got on video chat with their dad to show him, too.
They both look great. I’m glad they like their cuts. And make no mistake—I much prefer Monkey with shorter hair. But this really wasn’t the way I wanted this to happen. And we probably still have some work to do, to get him to stop plucking.
And after that, it’ll probably be something else. (I can’t think too hard about this. So hard. Too hard for a little boy, nevermind his worried mama.)
But we’ll deal with the next thing when it happens. I’ve got girl scout cookies, scissors, and even a cape. Come what may.