The Commotion You Know

Sensory Processing Disorder


Isaiah’s tennis teacher is a saint. He specializes in teaching 4-8 year olds tennis. Enough said.

As the mother of an 8-year-old I can personally vouch for how difficult that must be. Oh wait – I forget we are assuming that child is typical. But my child is not typical, and this class includes Isaiah (my child).

Isaiah – who is missing his volume control knob. Not only that – he is missing “the appropriate time to be singing a song at the top of your lungs” dial. So, as Coach Kim is running a drill where each student has to stand on a rubber circle and hit the ball, then rotate, Isaiah is singing a constant soundtrack in the background. A constant soundtrack that is actually only one phrase. I can’t quite make it out, the tune is decent, but the words probably only make sense to him.

Honestly, this song is grating on my nerves from the gallery, yet his coach goes on as if it is nothing but pleasant background music. The thing is, this song might be grating on my nerves, and maybe even Coach Kim’s. However, this song is comforting Isaiah.

The class is held on a racquet ball court, which echoes like, well, a racquet ball court. Every sound in there is amplified, every shoe squeak, every cough, every word. These sounds are a physical assault to my sensitive son. Yet instead of giving in and being terrified of trying, which would have been the case three years ago, he finds internal comfort. Internal comfort in a tune that protects him from the onslaught of audio that his nervous system cannot process.

Having a child with sensory issues, like sensory processing disorder, often means being the most misunderstood parent in the gang. It means enduring stares, and questioning glances. It means sometimes being the only one who doesn’t chit-chat and be asked to make play dates. Most people just choose to judge your child based on what they see and hear.

As someone who wasn’t always a mom, I can’t say I’m surprised. I mean – he looks like every other normal kid, he doesn’t walk differently, he has an extensive vocabulary and amazing communication skills, and he doesn’t even make funny faces at people as they go by. He doesn’t wear a sign around his neck that says “my nervous system does not process input correctly so please be patient with me.” That would be ridiculous, right?  But sometimes I wish he did have that sign. Sometimes I wish he had that sign to remind me, because there are times I want to yell “Can you please stop!!”.  The thing is, he can’t stop. If  I want him to integrate into a “normal” life, I can’t even ask him to stop. What I can do, is teach him the skills he needs to get through the rough times. But for an 8-year-old, sometimes just identifying what makes up difficult is too difficult. Sometimes being the commotion is the only way he can deal with the commotion.


This post has been included as part of my favorite prompt meme Finish The Sentence Friday “The nicest thing someone ever did for me…” For me that would be teaching my child without complaining and with empathy.

Please visit your hosts; these wonderful writers:

Janine Huldie of Confessions of a Mommyaholic
Kate Hall of Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine
Kristi Campbell of Finding Ninee
Stephanie Sprenger of Mommy, For Real
Sarah Rudell Beach of Left Brained Buddha as most honorary Guest Host

27 thoughts on “The Commotion You Know

  1. I truly don’t think anyone had to teach this to you, because I know what a wonderful and compassionate mother you are to Isaiah. But still glad that people like Isaiah’s tennis coach are understanding and help to make it easier at times for you at the very least. By the way, just so glad you joined us today an happy to have you link up 🙂

  2. As the mother of an 18yo daughter with a visible disability (moderate cerebral palsy – she walks with a limp), I’ve often thought about the kids around us at special needs events who don’t “look disabled.” My husband might turn to me and ask, “Why do you think that kid is here?” And I always respond, “Not all disabilities are visible. We don’t know what’s happening inside.” He gets sick of me responding that way, but we all need to realize that what you think you see might not be what’s really there. Thanks for pointing that out to all of us!

    (Visiting from #FTSF)

    • Kerith thank you so much. It’s moms like you who really make a difference. Even if it’s one husband at a time!

  3. We are pulling my son from tennis after this session is over because the echoes are too distracting for him! Did you talk with your son about how to deal in the racquet ball court (dear God, I can’t even imagine what that sounds like) or did he come up with that on his own?

  4. Sometimes being the commotion is how he deals with the commotion is so profound and perfectly stated. Really. You’re the bestest mom and he’s such a cool dude – I’m glad that there are coaches in his life who teach him with kindness and empathy. That’s a true gift.

    • You’re the best mom Kristi!!! I feel like we both get it, and we both get each other, and we both have AMAZING boys!

  5. Hmmm, I wonder if he’s a “visual” learner if in that particular circumstance, maybe headphones might help? If he could distract himself with a soothing song playing and still be able to learn by watching without all the distracting sounds. Must be frustrating, but it’s great that the teacher and apparently the other kids in the class seem to be managing it well with him. 🙂

    • Actually Chris, he is more of an auditory learner, he can memorize 10 minute soliliquys he hears. He has headphones, and we have done music therapy. He uses his headphones when the dogs are barking a lot. But as far as learning goes, funnily enough it doesn’t effect his ability!

  6. Both my two are now coaching and teaching swimming. One day my son tumbled into the car with a huge grin on his face. “I had the best little guy today Mom. We worked on back floats today for the first time. As soon as he got floating he starts singing REALLY loudly the theme song for a tv show. Not the whole thing. Just the “MAX AND RUBY!” part. It was so cool. I let him just carry on for a good 15 minutes. He was so so so happy.”
    Thank you for sharing the point of view of the floater Jen. I’ll pass that on to my son.

    • That’s an awesome story Kelly!!! Please share this with him, the more coaches that “get it” the more wonderful the world is!

  7. I so appreciate your quest to make Isaiah’s condition more understandable and relatable to others. I found the post helpful and touching and heart-squeezing, especially that line where you talk about how for him coming up with that line he sang over and over again is a defense mechanism against the attack on his senses. That just made me want to reach out and hug him through the screen, and you amazing mama that you are.

    • Awww Katia. Thank you. I really do feel it’s so important to share. It’s that looking typical thing that always makes it harder, so I think it’s important to share.

  8. First of all, Yay Jen!

    Welcome back! I’ve really missed your blogging and posts. It was a wonderful surprise to see your name on this FTSF hop. Please keep coming back!

    One point: getting “Looks” as a parent of a special needs parent goes with the territory. Sometimes, another parent will just get it, and then the Look melts into sympathy. If that doesn’t happen, then I’ve developed my own Look. It’s a mixture of invitation and attitude: “Yep, my boy not acting normally. Happy to chat with you about it, but if you go over the line I WILL cut you. So, shall we begin?”

    See you next week?


    • Thanks Anna! I’m not completely back. I am in an intensive 3 month web design course and man… but I just realized this short post really fit this week’s theme.

      I do agree with you. I get both looks. I just focus on the not so understanding because those are the people who I hope to reach, and I hope will look differently at kids they don’t understand.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. My son is now almost 19, and he has what I’d guess is somewhere near the same type of sensory processing disorder as Isaiah. Only back when he was Isaiah’s age SPD either wasn’t known or talked about as much, or it was harder to diagnose. So Ky was incorrectly diagnosed with (and disastrously attempted treatment for) things like OCD, or mild autism, or ‘oppositional defiant disorder’ (when he was actually a really easy going kid) etc.

    The WORST environments for him besides IMAX and the signing of Happy Birthday were team sports, and it was exactly what you described – all the echoing noise and disordered activity. I wouldn’t have even attempted tennis or racquetball! And it’s wonderful that Isaiah can find that internal way to cope, and that you can work past whatever social embarrassment comes from other parents thinking you just don’t care enough to discipline the relative annoyance of a repetitive song out of him.

    Reading this brought back so many memories of the stress ball in my son’s stomach, and my stomach watching him, from team sports, and then how finding that one coach who seemed to get it and work past it could change so much about the experience. I’m so glad to have found your blog and have passed it on to my son, who feels a little cheated that he wasn’t officially diagnosed with SPD (especially the auditory processing issues) until he was in high school and had already learned a bunch of less healthy coping devices, and a huge hit to his self esteem. The great part is that as an older teen, things have smoothed out very nicely. It’s really great to read about a parent who gets it and handles it so well.

  10. My son also sings and talks as if no one else is around. He has been tested and he’s just… well him. I definitely admire anyone who who deal with that age range. It’s a tough one.

  11. Aw, this is really nice. What a great tennis instructor. I taught tennis for a while back in college. I taught ages 6-12. There was always chaos on the court. I joined in. The head instructor didn’t really appreciate my joining in that much.

  12. As an elementary teacher of usually 22+ and a parent to a 2e sensory impacted kiddo, I totally get the value of this great coach! We have a swimming teacher that we feel the same way about! Doesn’t matter that she is far or expensive -she gets him 🙂

  13. My hairdresser told me at my last appointment that he son was diagnosed with SPD. She said that the school that he WAS attending treated him like an outcast and wouldn’t help him. When he was assigned with a support worker, she could not believe how evil and toxic the environment and teacher was. The teacher told the children that they were not allowed to play with this FIVE year old because he was TROuBLE. He had a hard time understanding and when he didn’t understand he got frustrated which is totally understandable especially when he wasn’t getting help.
    So horrible.

  14. I don’t have sensory issues and this is something I do on a regular basis, so I think it’s pretty awesome! 🙂 You know what nipped my judgy-wudgy attitude in the bud HARD? Having my own kids. They are RAMBUNCTIOUS, so I will never again judge another mom with a loud kid. I usually smile at them and silently thank God that it isn’t my kid…this time. 🙂 Great post.

    • I love that your kids are RAMBUNCTIOUS! Lord knows my boy is. And no one in my family gets it. But at least I do!

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