Today I want to give a shout out to all the sensory smart dads. It is not easy to admit that your child is “different,” much less that his differences require the assistant of a professional or professionals. So often, moms are the ones who recognize there is a problem and get the help needed, while dads avoid the issue and mutter about how “all this therapy stuff” seems unnecessary. I think partly this is because men are taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness, partly it’s because they’ve been trained to disdain their intuition and feelings that are the keys to recognizing when their child is struggling more than is typical, and partly it’s because they often spend less time with their kids because they’re the primary breadwinners. It’s just a lot harder to shrug off odd behaviors when you’re with a child almost all the time as the primary caretaker, so often the mom, is.
Maybe I was more fortunate than some in having a husband who did most of the caretaking while I worked, and who is a very feeling, intuitive guy. So, while my DH is of the generation that was taught it’s not okay for a boy to cry, and you’d better know how to put your dukes up if some kid bullies you on the playground, he was more attuned to our son’s sensory issues and differences than most men might be. Still, he saw those sensory, language, and behavioral “quirks” as positive. It was hard for him (and admittedly, for me too) to believe that a few “odd” behaviors added up to the need for OT 2x a week plus ST 2x a week…and then full-time, year ’round, special ed preK with OT, ST, and PT. Wow–our little guy needed all that?
Years ago, I asked my husband what helped him recognize that our kiddo really did need all that “stuff.” He said the fear of not being able to do something to “fix” my son’s problems made it very difficult for him to admit that they existed. It was when he was given OT, PT, and speech “homework” assignments and actually experienced what a difference his follow-through made that he could admit that all of this had a purpose. He worked with our son on pre-handwriting skills, trying new textures of food, playing at the sand and water table at the park, and pulling his way across the monkey bars. He began to sit in on OT sessions and ask questions, and let our home OT (Lindsey Biel, the coauthor of Raising a Sensory Smart Child) know what he’d discovered in working with our son. As he saw my son’s skills expand and self-regulation improve with simple tasks, he started to see what a crucial role he could play as a dad.
That’s when real progress began. He became a stay-at-home dad after closing his shop, and spent hours every day on OT-type activities at the playground and at home. A mere week later, my son’s special ed teacher called to say, “What are you guys doing over there? Because we’re not changing anything here and your son is so different this week, so focused, so open to learning, that whatever you’re doing, you have to keep it up. He’s going to make tremendous progress on his developmental delays if you do.” And we did. Or I should say, my husband did.
Oh, and our son won the school’s award for the most progress made by a child with developmental delays that year.
Is your child’s father reluctant to admit that “all this sensory stuff” is real and therapy and follow-through is necessary? Could doing some OT “homework” and noticing the very real results help? Why not try it and see? Don’t even say “sensory issues” or “therapy.” Just ask if he would mind following through with some “skill-building assignments” or “regulation work’ that your child was given. Encourage him to look for results. And point out results whenever you see them: “Wow, she’s really getting to sleep much more easily now that you’re doing that deep pressure with her before bed!” “Did you see how she didn’t flip out when you put her shoes on after you massaged her feet and turned her socks inside out to hide the seam? I’m SO glad you did that. I was just not up for a tantrum. Thank you!” As John Gray said in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, men need to feel competent and appreciated. Why not reinforce all that good follow-through and remind him of what a powerfully effective sensory smart dad he can be?