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Chynna's First Story - 'The Gift' - featured April 7, 2011

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Chynna's Writing Pearls: Chynna's First Story--'The Gift'

By: Chynna Laird

NB: Chynna's blog is typically directed at parents but we felt it was something you might enjoy and also want to share with the parents of your kiddos

Reprinted with the express permission of the author as it appeared on her blog, The Gift.

[Image: chynnnajaimie.JPG]

I'm going to kick off Autism Awareness Month with the very first published story I wrote about our journey with Jaimie. It's called 'The Gift' and it's all about the very first REAL hug she gave me. And it's also why I see these children, and everything they show us, bring to our lives and teach us, as a gift.

Enjoy! (And be sure to drop by 'The Gift' blog throughout the month of April as we'll be focusing many of our interviews, book reviews and other tidbits on the subject of Autism, Aspergers' and SPD.)

My daughter, Jaimie, was my miracle girl. She reminded me of one of those little babies you see in photos from the early 1900s: big blue wondering eyes, poker straight strawberry blonde hair, and creamy porcelain doll skin. Looking down on her each night as I watched her sleep, my heart filled with pure love I didn’t know existed before she did. But as she grew, we noticed she struggled in her environment and with the people in it. Jaimie was born with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Most people have a natural ability to tune unnecessary things out so they can focus. Jaimie doesn’t have this filtering ability. Her sensory organs receive and transmit messages to her brain but her brain doesn’t understand how to read those messages. This leaves her overwhelmed and confused a great deal of the time. And it prevents her from feeling comfortable in situations, places or with new people as she fears being overstimulated in any way.

She struggles with many sensory sensitivities but her most severe is tactile or the sense of touch. From about six months old she rejected any form of light touch even when offered in comfort and especially from her father Steve. And as parents, this has been the most excruciating part of coping with SPD.

I’ve longed to wrap my arms around Jaimie and to feel her tiny arms around me. But she’s never been able to allow herself to express her love for me in this way. Not because she doesn’t love me, but because even asking Jaimie for a hug is too upsetting for her to deal with. Jaimie hugs by putting her head out towards me and saying, “Hug.” I’ve just come to accept this expression of Jaimie’s love as normal.

Shortly after Jaimie received her diagnosis of SPD when she was two-and-a half, she began therapy to learn how to communicate with us more effectively. Steve and I were actively involved in her therapy so we could help her at home. For Steve, it was a way to help him finally be able to bond with his daughter he’d only been able to love from a distance. More than anything, I was grateful to finally have name for the unknown, unseen assailant I’d been fighting since Jaimie was born.

It wasn’t an easy road—Jaimie had a real problem with anyone coming into her sacred world of routine and organization. But after a year, I saw positive changes in Jaimie’s little personality as she slowly allowed people in. Perhaps she felt there were actually other people in her life besides me who understood what she was feeling inside and who liked her in spite of it. Jaimie began to express in words what was trapped in her mind. Yet, despite the positive aspects of her therapy, she still refused to be touched and would become very distressed even if we just talked about hugs. So, I simply waited with my arms ready.

One evening, Steve made me an offer I couldn’t refuse:

“Hun, why don’t you go out for a walk and let me hang out with Jaimie?”

Jaimie had been doing so well with her therapy I thought, “Let’s give it a shot!” That was the first time I went anywhere without Jaimie since she was born. I hesitated because Steve didn’t always do things exactly the way she needed them to be done nor had patience for her strict routines, which caused Jaimie to explode in frustration. Still, she had to let herself trust him. What if, God forbid, something happened to me? All she’d have left would be Steve.

So, I got ready to go then found Jaimie coloring at the kitchen table.

“Jaimie, Mama is going for a short walk but I’ll be back soon.” I said. “You and Daddy can color until I get back, okay?”

Jaimie didn’t seem to notice I’d said anything but her coloring got slower as she ground her crayon into her page. I looked at Steve who kissed me on the forehead as he gently pushed me to the door.

“We’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s only for twenty minutes or so. No worries.”

As I walked down the stairs, I fought a wave of guilt pulling me back into the house. But after a few minutes, I was exhilarated.

So this is what it felt like to do my own thing, I thought.

Considering I couldn’t even use the bathroom without leaving the door open because Jaimie needed to know where I was all the time, that walk was like going to a party for me—the best 20 minutes of my life. Nearing the house again, I heard what I thought were crow screeches. Then I realized it was Jaimie.

I flew up the front stairs, fumbled with my keys in the lock then found Steve straddling Jaimie on the floor, holding her arms and legs so she wouldn’t hurt him (or herself) as she screamed: “No! I don’t like you. I want Mama.”

Steve heard my sneakers squeak across the linoleum and looked up at me like a doctor losing his patient. I cupped his chin then dropped to the floor. He enveloped my hand in his then put it on top of Jaimie’s chest. After Steve left the room, I carefully lifted Jaimie off the floor and squeezed her to me (she calmed better with deep touch) as the front of my shirt soaked up her tears, sweat and drool.

For over two hours I tried every technique I was taught to calm Jaimie but nothing worked. Finally, I had no choice but to put her in her bed so she could release the rest of her fit in privacy. I went to the solitude of my room, flopped on the bed like a rag doll and allowed myself to do something I hadn’t for a long time: I cried. I didn’t stop the tears from coming like I usually did. I allowed them to flow.

I cried because I was angry at her for having SPD; because I felt helpless and scared I couldn’t help her; for losing my temper with her when she wouldn’t stop crying; for being frustrated because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do; for feeling guilty that I wished she was ‘normal’; and, mostly, for Jaimie – because she knew she was different but didn’t understand why.

Why couldn’t she let us reach her? Why couldn’t I, her Mommy, help her?

Drained after my emotional release, I heard Jaimie downstairs with Steve. I splashed cold water on my face in a feeble attempt to reduce some redness in my eyes then went to join my family. As I descended the stairs, I assured myself someday I’d reach her. I saw in her big blue eyes she had so much love she desperately wanted to give but her body simply wouldn’t allow her to. Someday, she’d trust me enough to show me.

I entered the living room where Jaimie and Steve watched a movie.

“Can I join you guys?” I asked.

Jaimie turned and ran to me when she heard my voice. “Mama!”

I crouched down so she could touch my leg with her head but instead she wrapped her tiny arms around me and hugged me…a real hug. I was in such shock it took me a few seconds to hug her back. I wrapped my arms around her tiny body and she whispered: “I love you, Mama.”

“Oh Jaimie,” I whispered back. “I love you too. So very much.”

For the first time since she was born, I felt the same joy other Mommies felt when their child expresses their love.

Her hug only lasted for a few seconds but even as she pushed away from me to finish watching her movie, I still felt the warmth of her arms around me. I knew it would be a long time before she’d hug again but I wasn’t sad. Her hug was a sign of good things to come and it renewed my hope.

Thank you, Jaimie for your precious gift.

I will treasure it always.

Our Featured Guest Blogger: Chynna Laird

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About the Author: Chynna Laird. Chynna is a psychology student, freelance writer and author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (seven), Jordhan (five), and baby Sophie (twenty-two months)] and baby boy, Xander (three). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.

She’s authored a children’s book I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD, a memoir Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and a reference book about the Sensory Diet (coming January 2011).

Tags: Article Sensory Processing Disorder Autism Newsletter 8 April 2011