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Child’s bad behavior doesn’t equal bad parenting

Over-looked condition may be cause of children’s ‘bad’ behavior
By Lailani Upham
Char-Koosta News

Pediatric Occupational Therapist Cyndi Elliott demonstrates a method to stimulate and challenge the vestibular system last month at a workshop hosted by The Best Beginnings Children’s Partnership and CSKT Early Childhood Program. The swinging motion significantly decreases or stops the child’s need for extra movement, Elliott explained. The vestibular system is part of the balance system needed for safety, said Elliott. (Lailani Upham photo) Pediatric Occupational Therapist Cyndi Elliott demonstrates a method to stimulate and challenge the vestibular system last month at a workshop hosted by The Best Beginnings Children’s Partnership and CSKT Early Childhood Program. The swinging motion significantly decreases or stops the child’s need for extra movement, Elliott explained. The vestibular system is part of the balance system needed for safety, said Elliott. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — A young mother noticed her daughter’s behavior before entering Head Start this year as “pretty disruptive.”

She was embarrassed because Elders were correcting her parenting and she was at a loss at what to do. She and her husband are known to be good parents and respectable people, but they had no idea what was happening and why their child seemed to be wayward.

“She had been climbing on all our furniture and jumping a lot and it was pretty disruptive to be honest. I just had a baby and everyone kept saying that our child was just acting out because of the new baby,” said the young mother.

That wasn’t the case. Instead, the toddler was craving a “safety system.”

“Within the first two weeks of starting Head Start her teacher spotted signs of what we later learned was sensory processing disorder. When her teacher explained about sensory processing I felt relieved knowing that it was something that we could actually do something about,” she said.

The SPD is mistaken as “bad behavior,” which is a common misconception parents and others diagnose from behavior issues. SPD is often overlooked.

According to Cyndi Elliott, pediatric occupational therapist, SPD is a neurological condition that occurs when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses, which can cause problems such as behavioral issues, learning difficulties, social awkwardness, and developmental delays. Although there is no cure, working with a good occupational therapist can help expand strategies for developing coping skills and increase cognitive function.

According to Elliott, sensory processing problems are considered a symptom of autism because the majority of children and adults on the autism spectrum also have significant sensory issues. However, sensory issues are also symptoms of ADHD, OCD and other developmental delays.

Elliott supports parents and educates teachers in sensory processing disorder. Her passion to help parents and children came from the love of her younger brother, David, who was born with Down syndrome. Elliott has worked in the field for more than 20 years aiding parents and children who are faced with a variety of challenges, from birth defects to injury-related disabilities. However, Elliott does not use the term disability; she says she helps families and educators see the children with “different abilities” and offers helpful tools for them to guide their children.

Elliott has trained ECS teachers for years. 

“We began a relationship with Cyndi Elliott when we were searching for assistance with children’s specific issues such as autism, feeding difficulties, children seemingly uncomfortable in his or her own skin and other behaviors such as aggressiveness, lack of coordination (children bumping into each other), children not wanting to touch certain textures, wash hands or get dirty,” said Jeannie Christopher, CSKT Early Childhood Department Head .

Christopher says Elliott has met with individual families, served children in classrooms, and shared beneficial information with Child Care providers and ECS staff. 

The mother, who agreed to be interviewed for this story only if her name was kept private, said shortly after discussing the issue with Head Start teachers she began meeting with Elliott and a team of therapists. “Cyndi met with us and helped educate us and showed us that our child acted differently because of her sensory needs, not because she was a ‘bad kid,’” said the Head Start mom.

She said the sessions helped change her mindset completely and the relationship she had with her child and her parenting. “I learned to be more compassionate about my child's needs and actively sought more resources for help. After a few months it seemed like she needed more sensory input than what we were providing.”

“Since Cyndi has been a part of our team our staff has a new awareness of why children might be doing what they are doing in the classroom,” said Christopher. “Often these behaviors are seen as negative but it is really the child needing to be able to feel the edges of their bodies.”

For many parents the SPD journey can be lonely, confusing, and frustrating, but not as much as it is for the child. It is tough for a parent that gets a judgmental stare from a stranger in public because of their child’s melt down, or a well-meaning relative seeing a child lacking in some area of development and corrects the parents, or another child asking their child, “Why do you eat that way?”

“Cyndi is a great resource to our program and to our families. We share the information and wisdom of her practice whenever we can,” said Christopher. 

The Head Start mother said since working with Elliott and starting speech therapy, her preschooler is better able to express her needs, which has helped her family immensely.

“Everyone has to keep people feeling protected and safe. Kids that don’t will seek out way to fill those needs,” said Elliott.

For more information on sensory processing visit www.iseeability.com, or contact Cyndi Elliott at (406) 261-0931 or email, Cyndi@iseeability.com.

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