We all have days when the world feels overwhelming. Maybe there are too many people around or the noise is more than you normally experience. Think about those times and try to remember how you felt--it wasn't very comfortable, was it? Now imagine being in this state almost constantly--the sun is too bright, materials are scratch, the world is a cacophony of noise from every direction...you get the picture. That is what having a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is like. It literally hurts to get through each day.
Being a child with SPD can be scary. You don't know what is going on; you only know you want to scream from all the intense sensations literally bombarding your senses. When those around you don't understand, it makes it even harder.
Chynna T. Laird has written a book for children with SPD titled I'm Not Weird, I Have SPD. In this book, we meet four-year-old Alexandra and listen as she tells us what it is like to live with SPD. Children and adults alike will come away from this book understanding this disorder with much more clarity. This book fills a great need. Any parent of a child with SPD knows what it is like to watch your child hurting and not know what to do or how to explain it. Now you can. This is a book that belongs on every psychologist and teacher's bookshelf, as well as those belonging to anyone else who deals with children regularly.
I had the opportunity of talking with Chynna and found our conversation enlightening. Please enjoy as you get to listen in.
1. Will you please tell our readers a bit about who Chynna Laird is--family, pets, etc...
I’m a stay-at-home Mama to four beautiful children. I have three girls: Jaimie (six), Jordhan (four) and baby Sophie who just turned one. I also have a gorgeous little guy named Xander who’s about two-and-a half. My wonderful and supportive partner, Steve, and I have been together for ten years. No pets, unfortunately because we still live in a rental townhouse. I’d love to have a dog but it’s not fair to keep a dog when you don’t have a nice big back yard to run around in! Aside from writing, I love reading, music and crafting with my kids. I’m also finishing up a B.A. in Psychology. I hope to become a Developmental Neuropsychologist once my education is all done. So, maybe when I turn 80, I’ll have everything in order!
2. Will you explain a bit to our readers what SID is and how it appears in a child?
Sure! Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID), more commonly referred to now as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), is a neurological disorder that can impede on how the brain interprets sensory information. Basically, the sensory organs take in sensory information from the environment and send it on to the brain but somewhere along the line the messages get “scrambled.” Because the brain isn’t able to read these messages, it doesn’t understand what to do with them or how to tell the body to react to the stimulation it comes in contact with. What happens is that the person can overrespond to stimulation, which means they feel things much more intensely than the rest of us do; or they underrespond to stimulation, which means they react much slower or not at all.
What most people don’t realize is that when a person has sensory issues, it isn’t just the regular senses we know of—smell, hearing, sight, touch and taste—that are affected. SID/SPD can also affect balance, coordination, muscle tone, our sense of gravity and how we position ourselves in relation to other people and objects. When you think about it, all of these things are closely linked: A person who has an over-sensitive tactile system wouldn’t just be affected by what they touch and what touches them but also what textures they could handle eating. A person whose sense of hearing doesn’t work well may also have difficulty with balance and coordination. It’s really amazing.
3. You have written a wonderful children's book titled "I'm Not Weird, I Have SID." Can you tell me a bit about this book?
The book is about a four-year-old little girl, named Alexandra, who feels things much more intensely that everyone else around her. Touches scare her, noises—even quite ones—hurt her ears, smells make her nose feel so bad it affects whether she’ll eat and her eyes can’t handle bright lights. She’s scared of things around her and how they’ll affect her but she doesn’t know why or how to tell others. So she screams to try and make the fears and yucky feelings go away. One day a wonderful occupational therapist (OT) named Donna came over. She explains to Alexandra that she has SID/SPD and gives her the tools not only to cope with it more effectively but the words to talk about it with others.
Alexandra starts feeling braver and even lets herself hug her Mama! She knows that SID/SPD will always be with her but now it doesn’t scare her as much because she understands it. In the end she says, “When people ask me about it I just tell them, “I’m not weird. My name is Alexandra and I have SID/SPD!”
4. What was your inspiration for writing this book?
My daughter Jaimie (whose middle name is Alexandra, by the way!) inspired the book. Unfortunately, she had a bad experience just after her diagnosis, and just when she’d started therapy with Donna (the OT in the book), where a small group of children made fun of her reactions to them and other things around her—there were a lot of children there that day, it was VERY windy and VERY noisy. I’m not sure whether she truly understood what those children were doing but it hurt me as her Mama to watch.
I wrote the book to validate her feelings and make her see that she wasn’t the only one in the world who felt things the same way she did. It also gave me a way to talk about it with her. I read many books, articles and did research but there weren’t too many resources out there speaking from the perspective of these kids going through this disorder. I wanted to help change that. To completely understand it—without actually having it yourself—you need to be willing to see things through their eyes.
5. Will you be writing other books of this nature?
Yes, actually. I have a memoir called, “Not Just Spirited: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)” which will be coming out at the end of August 2009. I’ve also just signed on with Sunrise River Press to write a book about one family’s success with the sensory diet (that’s just the term given to the holistic approach of nutrition, exercises and other activities based on the child’s strengths and needs) tentatively called, “The Sensory Diet: Setting the Sensational Child Up For Success.” The latter book will be more of a reference-type book where I’ll give information in layman’s terms with loads of insight from pros in the SPD community. I just got word that should be published by January 2010.
6. You have quite a list of publishing credits. Has writing always been part of your life?
Actually it has. I started writing when I was very young and have always written in journals. I was one of those girls who loved passing notes in school but mine were more like stories rather than gossip. The funny thing, though, is that I never had any intention of getting my work out for the world to read. THAT still feels weird to me. LOL! And, honestly, it wasn’t one of my writing goals to be an author either. I just…did it. I’ve always written to soothe my soul or get back in touch with my creative side when I wasn’t able to play piano or other creative things. You can take writing with you everywhere…so I do!
7. What one piece of advice would you give a parent of a child with SID?
If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong with your child—if he or she isn’t thriving in their environment—keep knocking on doors until someone listens to you. Get that help as early as possible because the earlier the intervention, the earlier they’ll learn to cope. Yes for some children SPD will always be a part of their lives, but with the right treatment and coping tools, they can have a full life. Parents need to understand that these children’s bodies are very disorganized because those messages aren’t being interpreted appropriately. I heard a wonderful expression once that SID/SPD isn’t a “brain problem” it’s a “connection problem” and parents simply need to help their child make those connections.
Stay on top of things, switch things around when something isn’t working anymore and look at your child with your sensory glasses on (as my dear friend Lori always tells me.) Going through all of this with Jaimie has taught me patience, understanding and has made me a better Mama.
8. I have to ask where you find the time for school, writing and raising four children. I wish I had your energy!
LOL! I don’t sleep very much, actually. I’m about three courses away from getting my degree so now I just to that part time and writing more full time. I write around my first job—being a Mama. And there are days where I don’t get much writing time in and other days where I’ll get loads done. It all balances out. It sounds really strange but I get my energy from my kids—they keep me going and inspire me to do the same.
9. Where can we find more information on you and your work?
Please come and visit me at my website, Lily Wolf Words, at www.lilywolfwords.ca. It’s become more of a resource for families with sensory issues but I have my writing on there too. We have a newsletter, a blog and I’m hoping to put up a message board but that’s in the future because I don’t have a lot of time to moderate a message board. My blog is http://lilywolfwords.blogspot.com. You’ll also see me around on WOW! womenonwriting from time-to-time too.
10. Is there anything else you would like to share with us today regarding you, your writing or SID?
If you have something important to say…if you want to make people understand better…if you want to help make the world a better place by sharing something others may not know about, share it. We all have a unique perspective with stories to tell and these stories may actually help others in need.
I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject of SID/SPD. I’m just one parent who has gone through it with her child. A very wise person once said to me that there are people in the world feeling like they live on a remote island—scared, lonely and feeling like they are the only ones going through what they’re going through. When we share our stories and reach out, we are building bridges to other people who are out there on those islands, making us more connected to one another. The world doesn’t seem so vast and lonely when you have even just that one person who “gets it.”
So go out there and make a difference. You have the power to do that.
I'm Not Weird, I Have SID/SPD is available through Amazon.com, Outskirts Press, B&N, and some independent or chain bookstores.
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