Stopping to Smell the Roses...My Sensory Seeking Child


I don't know what caused my sweet boy's brain to be wired the way it is. Maybe it was the first 7 months of his life that was spent in an orphanage or maybe it was the lack of prenatal care his mother received? It could be genetics, poor nutrition, lack of being many things could have caused my little guy to struggle harder than the next. So many.

I am blessed to say that Max has worked through most of his issues. Yes, some still linger or rear their heads in stressful times but all-in-all he is we are doing great. This leads me to my "if you can't beat'em, join'em" mentality for treating Max's sensory ways.

{For those of you not familiar with Sensory issues, let me give you some brief information (you can google the specifics). There are a lot names that all vary slightly in definition; Sensory Integration Disorder, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, & Sensory Processing Disorder. There are organizations, foundations, Yahoo groups, you name it to support all these disorders. Wikipedia defines all this as "a neurological disorder that was first studied in-depth by A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., OTR. Dr. Ayres describes sensory integration as the ability to organize sensory information for use by the brain. An individual with sensory integration dysfunction would therefore have an inability to organize sensory information as it comes in through the senses." I am going to keep this definition brief. Because most child with this disorder suffer from all types of Sensory Processing Disorders, to varying degrees.}

This is how I begin to define, one part, of what Sensory Processing Disorders means to our family.

The Problem:
Smelling. I can smell a lit cigarette from a mile away. If byron comes home from playing poker with the guys, I know instantly if he was drinking Jack or Beer. I can smell the individual scents between baby fresh deodorant, rosemary mint body lotion and Channel No.5...all worn by the same person. My smeller is good and when I smell these smells, I barely notice I can smell them. It's "there" but does not consume me for more than a Nano Second.  Now the best way I can describe what Max feels, is to take all this and amp it up by 1000.  When he would smell something, it would stop him dead in his tracks. His need to inhale the smell would be so overpowering, it would interfere with his daily life. Even bad smells, the urge was stronger than his will power. One time after church service, we where all piling out of the pew to go home and I look down to find Max stopped in his tracks smelling the pew cushion were people had been sitting.  I had to drag him away. Shame him into leaving. I was mortified, he was beaten down.  Everything in our lives at this time was consumed by smelling. I would find him on the ground, the wall, name it, he was smelling it. This need to seek smells was interfering with his play, relationships and how he felt about himself. So, it was time to come up with a solution. It was time to join'em.

The Solution:
One particular morning, the smell seeking was bad.  I needed a fix and I needed it now. So, I picked Max up and sat him on the kitchen counter. I opened the spice drawer and started opening lids. I would offer each spice, one-at-a-time. He would smell and we would talk about the smell. He would make faces at the different smells, asking to pass on some and smell some twice. I "played" at his pace. Maybe this took 10 minutes? Maybe 15? What matters is that Max stopped smelling. He controlled the behavior.  He walked away from the experience and smelling did not interfere with his behavior the rest of the day. His Sensory Seeking meter was full and I was on to something.

It is important to me that I provide everything my son needs to be successful in life. Yes, this can sound like a crazy broad statement, but hang with me for a second.  It is human nature to want to make life easier for our children and when our children struggle we want to ease the pain.  It is also equally important to me that I raise a child who can ease his own pain and create his own successes. I want us to meet in the middle.  Max needed the independence and behavior modification to deal with his issues. Max knows himself best and on days when he is seeking, he needs to learn to fill his own meter (& I don't want him playing in my spice drawer). So, I created a smelling station.

Plastic Storage Bottles w/ Seal Tight Lids
Misc. Scented Oils (I bought warmer oils in the candle section of Walmart)
Cotton Balls


Now, whenever Max feels the need to smell, he helps himself.  He is learning to be a "fixer" just like his mother :)

Again, as I say with all my post written about Max. If you don't like my parenting, then move on. Please don't leave me a negative comment.  However, if you have a similar story, are worried about your own child or would like additional information (I am no expert!), then please leave me a comment or email me privately. I love to chat (& you thought this was a home decor blog!).


This post has been heavy on my heart, which probably means there is someone out there who needs to read this. I hope it helps....

Other Resources:
The Out-of-Sync Child
The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun
Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation
SPD on Facebook


Mama Thompson said...

I truly appreciate this oldest sister's son is a sensory seeking child...he needs lots and lots and lots of bigger motor activity to be able to get through his days. The struggles continue, even when she knows what needs to be done...he is learning too...and some days are good and some are bad. I am going to email this post to her...thanks again for sharing.

Emily@remodelingthislife said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and wisdom on this.

Barbara said...

This sound therapy sounds a bit like Harmonics.

Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

I think it's wonderful that you got creative and found ways to help him. That's parenting at its best. What an inspiring post!

Christy @ MCH PHOTOGRAPHY said...

This was so interesting to read. I love your approach to helping him.

Hillcrest Acres said...

Your story really touched my heart. It is so wonderful that you discovered a creative way to help your son. He is lucky to have you for a mother.

Some parents would be consumed with embarrassment and scold the child for smelling everything, thus making matters worse. Some parents would take their son to a therapist and hope he would cure him. I commend you. You found a solution and made life easier for your son.

Your story is inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It's great to see that you have found a way to help your son deal with his challenges. My son has Tourette Syndrome and I find that there are things that he just has to do and can't move on until he has done it. I love the solution you came up with for your son and hope that I can find a creative and fun way to help my own son. You have inspired me to do that. Thank you.

Hartley said...

That isn't just good parenting it is providing a SENSORY DIET to your kiddo! Yay you! I am going to email you privately as well.



Tammy said...

Christy you are a good parent as you found a way to help him deal with his problem. A bad parent would have just yelled and tried to embarrass him. I applaud you in rearing this child into becoming a great man.

Beth@The Stories of A to Z said...

You know I can relate :). I have two Out of Sync kiddos with very different needs and I am continually trying to get creative to meet them. Bravo to you for meeting Max's need for stimulation in a loving, fun, and creative way! It's exhausting though. So if you ever need someone to vent to, know I'm here.


JoAnn said...

I think you are BRILLIANT...and inspiring. Max is one lucky little boy.

Dale said...

Max is a lucky little boy. And your extended families are lucky to have you and him in their lives.

Anny said...

I'd never heard of this disorder so thank you. Your solution is genius and I'm glad you're letting him take care of himself when his urges get out of hand. He's already learning lessons in control most of us don't learn until adulthood.

JAG said...

I too had not heard of this disorder. Thank you so much for sharing your personal story. It is a powerful lesson to me of helping our children to help themselves as hard as it may be for us.

Unknown said...

I have never dealt with this as a mother of 3 grown sons, or as a teacher in 3rd grade for years. However, I want to commend and applaud you for your persistence in finding a "solution" for your son's need. You are brilliant, and loving, and kind. Every person in the world is different in some way(s) and to be accepted and loved for who you are is such a gift.

Congratulations for finding something that works. God bless you and Max!!

The Tomball Three said...

I've never heard of this - but your solution is BRILLIANT ... and even for people like me, who are calmed by smells. If I am having a bad day, nothing feels better than soaking in some lavendar ...and peppermint helps with a headache and sugar cookie smells make me feel better when I'm blue. I believe I may have to make some of these bottles for myself!

katherinemarie said...

You are an amazing and sensational mama. I'm heart-broken to think of his first months without you. You are providing him a wonderful and beautiful place to learn, explore and love. Way to go!!!!!!!!!

Yvonne said...

What a wonderful and intelligent mom you are! God Bless Max and your family.

Unknown said...

I want to thank you so much for posting this account of helping your child with his sensory needs. I grew up with fairly severe SPD but no one ever caught it. I was labeled as "gifted," "unique," "precocious," etc, but not labeled as someone in need of assistance, which consequently I did not get (ended up dropping out of high-school as soon as I turned 16; it was too overwhelming for me). Anyway, I can really relate to smelling everything because that's how I always was. Gas station fumes, flowers, garbage dumps, bathrooms, pleasant and unpleasant smells both (my parents were used to me cranking my window down in the car even in the middle of winter to get the smells, and I could tell whether or not snow or lightening was possible by the smell in the air). I couldn't stand the smell of sauerkraut at all, and had to cover my face with a wet, scented towel to deal with my mom cooking it. I spent a lot of time (hours) going through our large spice cupboard and smelling everything, as well as wandering around our yard smelling the flowers and herbs and vegetables my mother had planted (I was born in 85 so this was not terribly long ago, but my parents were poor so we raised as many veggies as we could ourselves and went to soup kitchens and food banks for the rest of what we needed, for a long time). We had wild roses, white and purple lilacs (BIG difference in smell between the two!), rosemary, lavender, lemon thyme, and a whole host of things I never learned to name (although I wish I had, because I can differentiate smells really well). I also had issues with mouthing things. I still have callous-scars on both my hands from literally HOURS spent EVERY day chewing my fingers until they were raw (while humming sequences of repeating notes in various comforting patterns), and I find myself picking and plucking out hairs a lot for the "burst" of sensation I get from it. I used to have a large bald spot on my head from this but it has since grown in. Right now I am dealing with a husband who does not know how to handle it when I am over-stimulated and cannot tolerate his touch, especially since I flip rapidly between being over and under stimulated by many things. One thing I found as a child that helped calm me down all day, though, was taking a boat ride on Lake Washington (a fresh/saltwater lake attached to Puget Sound near Seattle, WA), under the bow of the boat in the mini-berth section, bracing my hands and knees on the fiberglass above me, and having my dad go speeding along, bouncing me up and down in my braced position as I screamed my head off. I did that for half an hour or so, and was "calm" sensory-wise for the rest of the day, and slept well (in contrast to being up most of the night reading, which I taught myself how to do at age 3). Anyway, that's a little about my story, and thank you again for trying so hard to find creative ways to help your child help himself.

Anonymous said...

What a great article!!! I am so relieved to have found this. I will see if something like this can help my son who is 8. I never thought that his sniffing need could be satiated and contained.