I was holding my youngest daughter at the Koi pond in a local garden today, watching the large orange, grey and speckled white, and golden fish lumber through the water. Something made me look across the rectangular pond to see a panicked mother plunge her hand into the pond and pull out her approximately 18 month old little boy by the ankle. His head just missed the concrete edging to the pond on his way back out. She was hitting his back in fear he had swallowed water, and as soon as she heard the sweet and heartbreaking sound of his scream – his life force – she knew he was breathing. She set him up right, hugged him in her arms and hurried over to the other 3 mothers and children with her that day. They doted over her, affirming the little boys feelings that it was scary, and cold, and wet, and comforting the mother (who was still in shock) asking her if she was okay. All she could say was “I didn’t even bring a change of clothes for him today.” They said they did, and led her and the boy to get him changed. I felt in the moment paralyzed, and not knowing what to do, and at the same time, knowing the boy was okay, and the mom would be okay. They were supported. It was okay for me to do nothing in that moment… Even though I wished I could help. My heart went to that mother, knowing that it could have easily been any of us.
As the loving friends helped lay the boy on the bench and strip him of his cold, dripping wet hugging clothes he screamed louder and his panic amplified. My daughter was looking at him with concern, and I was seeing the tears and shock in the mother. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t really act, everything was just happening to her in this moment. Suddenly, it struck me, I knew how I could help. I walked up very gently to her and said calmly in her ear with my hand on her shoulder. “I think some skin to skin contact would help your son to calm if you’d be willing to take off your jacket and hold him.” The only acknowledgement she gave that she heard me was handing me her purse, and immediately stripping off her jacket and letting it fall to her feet, picking up her naked son, still in a wet diaper, and touching her cheek to his and wrapping her hands around his body. Immediately, he took that deep body vibrating sigh of the nervous system trying to reset to calm, and he stopped crying. He wrapped his arm around his mother’s head, and stroked the tail end of her soft pony tail for tactile comfort. Finally he could feel his mother was there, and that he was okay. “That’s it, mama.” I said to her, and faded back. The loving friends continued to remove his wet diaper with him in her arms, and put on a dry one. And then proceeded to get him dressed, all while still in his mama’s arms. I walked away to attend to my own family as I knew after that moment, they we’re on their path to recovery from that traumatic incident.
Witnessing the traumatic event today, and feeling my own emotional response to what occurred, I was reminded of what my older daughter and I have experienced together hundreds of times over the past 4.5 years, and what I’ve learned about trauma, and how I really want to deepen my trauma knowledge and training to help my own family and others. I’ve found, for our family, the true definition of Sensory Processing “Disorder” is the aspect of Trauma. Children with sensory processing issues, actually experience every day sensations as life or death; as traumatic. The famed “Sensory Meltdown” sensory parents often refer to, is actually a response to trauma. A fight or flight or freeze to a hair dryer, an unexpected touch, a bug flying unexpectedly across one’s field of vision, or just too much all at once (grocery store) can trigger a traumatic outburst of panic and a call for help from a sensory sensitive child. And when my understanding of my daughters challenges shifted from, “this is so difficult, why do all her responses have to be so extreme” to “she thinks this could kill her, and she needs help to calm and recover” healing for her, and us, looked less like desensitizing her to triggers (a more traditional approach to sensory processing treatment), and much more about uncovering the tools of trauma prevention and trauma healing practices. In the physiological and neurological sense, learning how to help her nervous system activate and deactivate in a healthy, regulated way. The results from shifting our approach and understanding has been profound. And while there are still hard times, hard days, weeks, or months, I know that we are on our path to recovery from experiencing every day life as trauma. And I wish more than anything else to continue to learn and develop my trauma knowledge to help others find their path towards recovery from trauma, as I hope a tinie tiny thing I did today helped one mama and her beloved son.