In the West we have a greater understanding of what makes our children tick than at any other time in our history.
Sensory Processing Disorder. Attention Deficit Disorder. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Auditory Processing Disorder. Dispraxia. A host of others. Sometimes it seems like there are letters of the alphabet to explain every negative or undesirable behaviour a child ever experiences.
It is wonderful that there are so many supports in place for children who suffer from these and other disorders that interfere with their quality of life. As awareness builds, more parents seek help and more children are given the resources they need to cope with their world. In no way do I want to take anything away from that. Nor am I a skeptic (and there are many; SPD isn’t recognized in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual as of yet despite it apparently being a relatively widespread problem).
But as a child care provider, I’m a little concerned about how often people suggest to me that a child in my care might have a disorder that requires testing, evaluation, and intervention.
I have three toddlers in my care; current ages 28 months, 26 months, and 22 months. They are irrational little creatures. One day they love bananas, the next day bananas are poison. One day they find a ladybug in the backyard and let it crawl all over their hand, the next day a blade of grass touches their foot and they freak out. They don’t like tags in their clothes. Or they do. They love tight hugs a hundred times a day, or they don’t want to be touched – or even looked at (“he’s YOOKIN’ a-me, Han-NAH!”)
There is no understanding them.
This blog is my lifeline, my place where I talk about some of the more frustrating aspects of my job. I don’t often blog about the really good days, or the lovely moments – because when those days & moments are happening, I’m enjoying them with my whole self and can’t be bothered to even jot it down on a piece of paper to blog about it later. Because of this, my stories skew to the horror-show side; the panic attacks, the aversion to splash pools, the screaming fits. I’m sure from the outside looking in, it may seem as if there must be something more going on, something beyond the usual utter weird & off-kilter crazy that is life with the Toddler Brigade.
And so people helpfully ask if I’ve considered SPD, or autism, or Asperger’s. In many cases they have kids of their own with these issues, and getting a diagnosis was the beginning of better times for them all. They remember whirling in confusion, needing help, needing answers. They don’t want to see me or the kids in my care going through the same thing. They mean well and I love them for their concern.
Nine times out of ten, these kids are just being kids. Kids who are away from their parents from 7:45 until 5:30, five days a week. Kids who are thrown in with older children and a nursing baby. Kids from pet-free homes who spend the day with two cats and a delightful but large Labrador Retriever. Kids who are expressing themselves and their worries & fears in a way that seems completely appropriate to them, if painful and upsetting to everyone around them. (Pixie darling, I’m looking at you and your ultra-sonic screaming).
In the past, I’ve had concerns. My very first full-time client, my dear Very Quiet Boy, had a speech delay. He didn’t really react to pain. He slept ridiculous amounts of time. He didn’t make eye contact very often or when he did, nothing short of a neutron bomb would make him break that. He wanted to play with the other kids, but he didn’t know how.
His mom’s a teacher. She and I had several frank discussions about his delays. She mentioned her concerns to his doctor, who evaluated him and pronounced him “fine”. And almost two years later, he *is* fine. His speech is still a little garbled but it’s getting better all the time. He likes to play, is looking forward to attending preschool with Ron in the fall, and is generally just a happy little guy who mumbles a bit.
Marie and Unnamed Boy from a year ago were my two “challenge children”. Unnamed Boy was violent. He couldn’t control his emotions. He lived entirely in a fantasy world populated by TV characters. He didn’t understand personal space. He was a tank; a mean-spirited tank who crashed through here every day disrupting things and terrorizing the other children. I spoke to his parents about his behaviours many times; his mom seemed receptive but his dad was not. The plan when they left me was to have his grandmother care for him; that lasted all of a month, and the last time I saw him he was at the community centre with a group from the local Big Daycare, sitting sulking in the corner and not participating.
Marie was a completely passive child who couldn’t follow simple instructions, preferred the company of a stuffed elephant to other children, and disliked me almost as much as I disliked her (it’s true. I don’t automatically love all children.) After leaving my care, both kids ended up in licensed facilities with many more children and multiple caregivers, and in Marie’s case anyway is doing much better.
In every case when I have a kid who just isn’t fitting in, who doesn’t seem to march to the same rhythm as their peers, I seek help. I ask questions. I talk to their parents to try and find out if it’s a pattern of behaviour, or if they just aren’t suited to the home care environment. I try different approaches.
These aren’t my kids, and as their (unlicensed, non-certified, my qualifications are experience based only) caregiver, there is only so much I can do. A friend of mine also runs a dayhome. She has had one child full-time for close to a year, and in that particular case, the child has obvious issues. She stims. She hurts the other children and the pets, and has no empathy. She can’t follow two-word commands – she’s three – and is barely verbal. My friend showed me video and there is no doubt that the child needs more than a mom with six kids in her charge and no specialized training can give.
She spoke to the parents. Several times. She showed them the videos. She started by gently hinting, then progressed to “have you noticed this at home” questions. Eventually, she point-blank said “I am not a diagnostician, but I’ve read up on some things and I really think your daughter has a developmental delay. Would you consider getting her evaluated by a professional?”
And they flat-out refused to even acknowledge what she was saying. In the end, she gave them notice because she is unqualified and unequipped to deal with a special-needs child in a dayhome situation. She feels terrible about it, but she is the provider – not the parent. Beyond alerting them to the problem, there really is nothing she can do.
Same with me here. Let’s take Unnamed Boy as our example, because of all my kids past & present he’s the one that I’m pretty sure has more going on than a lack of proper socialization and inconsistent discipline at home. His behaviours were so out-of-control that I took to keeping a daily log, to give to his parents every day at pickup. I had other kids his age here at the time – three of them – and so was able to say with confidence that he was not reacting in a way that could be considered “normal” or “developmentally appropriate”. But it was incumbent on them to take that information and decide what to do with it. In the end, they did nothing; they pulled him from my care and put him in a bigger daycare where (I’m guessing based on the day I saw him) he gets lost in the shuffle of 30 other kids and his odd behaviours are perhaps not as disruptive & therefore go unnoticed.
I’m losing the thread of my original thought a little bit, so… to sum up. Kids are weird. Toddlers are irrational. If they are operating outside “the norm”, we caregivers notice. Yes, we’ve “considered SPD / autism spectrum / ADHD”. In most cases, we’ve looked at it objectively and are confident that it’s either a phase or just one of those wacky things toddlers do sometimes. No, we can’t “get them evaluated”. All we can do is our best, talk to the parents, and hope.