This is part of a long story, to catch up on Therapy Thursdays and Lucas’ story. Check out the other post HERE.
If you’ve read any of the other Therapy Thursday posts, I am sure you’ve gathered that Lucas has never really been comfortable in his own body. For obvious reasons of eczema and a sensory processing disorder, this boy was just never at home with any form of touch. Be it hugs. Kisses. Hand holding. Holding in general. Or, even non-personal touch. Like something sticky. Or wet. Or cold. Or scratchy.
This boy prefers to not be touched by anyone, and not have anything touch him.
A big part of his lack of eye contact. Lack of connecting with people — connecting with me. Was driven by this aversion to touch. When he would look at me. When our eyes would meet. I would touch him. I would. I’d reach out and grab him. And try to hold on for dear life to that little soul I had just felt. My heart would nearly burst when he would look at me. And those eyes. Deep blue with the longest eyelashes you’ve ever seen. They draw me in. And physical touch comes pouring out of me.
It took me a long time to learn from Renee that, each and every time I grab him against his will, or touch him before he is ready, I break both his trust in me and his trust in eye contact. Or connecting in general. Sometimes after Renee would come to work with Lucas. She’d leave and I would find myself wondering who just had therapy. Lucas, or me? I learn so much about myself. About life in general. About relationship building. And trust building. And how hard it is to build trust in the first place. And most of all, how important it is to maintain and protect that trust. Metaphors for sensory processing, sure.
But really this whole story of Lucas. His fight. His path. It has taught me so much more about life.
Over the course of a couple of months, Renee had opened up Lucas’ ability to be touched. And through a technique called Wilbarger Brushing Program, Lucas gradually became more and more desensitized to touch. We used this surgical brush every two hours. Brushing his skin with deep and even pressure all along his body. And it’s incredible. His language blossoms with this technique. He would be silent. Dysregulated. And then. Then I would start. I would sit him on the counter. His head always down. Not quite sure. And his eyes. Those eyes squeezed shut. And I would brush his arms. And move to his back. And with deep even pressure I would brush his all of his skin. Those eyes would open.
That little face would look up at me. And when our eyes met. Oh man, it was beautiful.
And like clockwork, he would start talking. Singing even. Pointing to things. Asking for a snack. Or milk. My boy would come alive. And I would put the brush down. Set him back on the ground. And he would run off to play without a care in the world. And as the hours would pass. He would get quieter. Or more reserved. And I would do it all over again. Since then, we have been able to slowly spread out these brushings. And now, I probably do it a couple times a week — if that. This technique is so tricky and requires some serious knowledge on the subject. So, I will not even attempt to explain how to try it. This one is best left to the professionals! But the point is, that Lucas gradually learned to be touched. And while random things will still bother him more that they should, he is no longer terrified of that physical component. It no longer holds him back.
This brings me to some of the great lessons I have learned and adopted when it comes to physical touch:
The first, is that eye contact is not an invitation to touch someone — a lesson my husband learns nightly . And children. No matter how small. Even newborns. Are individuals with the right to be in control of their own body. With a right to preferences. They deserve respect. No child should be forced to touch. It deserves to be and should be a choice of the child. Not the force of an adult. Sorry, real talk for all my sensory homies out there!
The second thing I have loved and use on all my kids is the “squeeze squeeze”. Y’all, this one is so so good. Lucas used to get “phantom dirt”. Like, lets say he was playing with a sensory box of beans. When his fingers would touch the beans, the sensation was overwhelming to him. And long after he removed his hands from the beans, long after the box was put away, he still felt that sensation of the beans. We would wash and dry and wash some more but that “phantom dirt” was still there. Renee taught us to squeeze his hands super hard. And say
instead of washing, rubbing, or gently touching. And phantom dirt is just one example. I squeeze squeeze the kids hands all the time. When they fall down. After they eat. After we put hand sanitizer on. It just works to reset their system and, with the deep pressure, it puts an end to any strange sensations. I usually ask Lucas before I do it.
“Do you want squeeze squeeze?”
And he typically proceeds to put both of his hands out to me with his eyes closed tight. Even today, he still thinks it’s going to hurt to be touched.
Lucas has even learned to squeeze his own hands. And sometimes, at the playground, after he goes down the slide, touches the sand, or holds onto the ropes, I can see him stop. He’ll close his eyes tightly for a split second and squeeze his hands together. And on he goes. Playing like every other little two year old boy there. He is learning to regulate himself. To know his own needs.
And best of all, he is learning to be a two year old. Just like everyone else.