Everybody has something or somewhere that brings them peace. A place to get away. A thing that makes you smile. A place that makes you feel at peace with yourself and all that is going on in your world. For me, I find peace in many places... On my couch watching my favorite television shows, late at night, when everyone in the house is asleep. In the car, on a long drive up north with my two children nestled in their car seats, smiling, and my husband behind the wheel. Deep in a good book, a real book, with pages that I can turn. In the crowd, watching my daughter dance as the audience roars with approval and her whole face glows with pride. These are a few places I find peace in my hectic life. But for my son. My very special little boy. Peace is hard to find.
Children with special needs, especially those with sensory issues and cognitive impairments, often struggle to find peace in day to day life. Their lives are filled with anxiety, communication barriers and so much that they are experiencing that we, as the typically developing world, cannot even begin to understand. Peace is hard to find.
For my son, peace and happiness has come in the form of some slightly odd behaviors. Pulling on the blinds cord. Chewing on a string...any string he can find. These activities have brought him peace. There was a time in my son's life when we tied everything to a string because it gave him a sense of calm to carry around a string. Recently, the garden hose has been his "string" of choice. His smile covers his face when he can pick up that long, green, garden hose and carry it around the backyard. These may seem like strange comfort items to most parents, but to parents of children with sensory issues, we know that comfort and peace are found in whatever item calms the anxiety. Brady has a very strong oral motor sensory issue. Putting things in his mouth calms him and helps him find peace in a world where he struggles to communicate, has no words of his own and cannot always show us what is going on inside of him. So he puts strings, hoses, sand shovels and anything else he can find, in his mouth and mindlessly chew on them until the calm comes over him and he finds peace. But there is a place that brings him peace and makes him forget about the strings and the cords and just enjoy his world.
My son has found peace in the park. Mae Stecker Park in Shelby Township to be exact. For over a year, Brady has loved being outside. He can spend hours in the backyard. He doesn't mind what season it is. He doesn't mind the weather. He even loves being outside as the rain pours down and he laughs, all bundled up in his raincoat , as his little face gets covered in rain drops. He likes to walk around the yard, feel the sun on his face and smile. But, now he has a true love. He loves being at the park. He likes to watch the people in the park...kids playing basketball, children climbing on the playground equipment, couples walking their dogs and his sister gliding along the monkey bars. He enjoys the whole atmosphere. He has a sense of pride when he slides down the slide and actually lands on his feet. He loves to walk on the long path circling the baseball diamonds. He gets more physical therapy just being a little boy at the park, then he does in the hours and hours of clinical work we put in each week with his therapist. That is what is so amazing to witness at the park. Our little boy, who has never really had a chance to just be a little boy, doing things that other little boys do without a second thought.
Brady prefers the playground empty. He takes some steps back when a crowd of children of all ages take over the slides, swings and tunnels. He is still not a fan of crowds, but at least they do not scare him off the way they used to. He is at peace in the park. He is a little boy, not a little boy with special needs, when he is walking around the park on a sunny morning. His smile never leaves his face when he is at the park. I know he is calm. I know he is less anxious. I know he is at peace. I know this, because Brady tells me.
My son Brady is nonverbal. He has no words. He does not sign. But he does communicate. Brady has his own way. He doesn't make many sounds, but he . He claps his hands for "yes". The communication is coming. And when he really finds something that makes him happy and he truly loves...something that brings him peace, he tells me. He tells his family. Brady has started squealing, clapping his hands and making new sounds every time we drive by the park. It is real communication. He is telling us how much he loves that park and it is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. I hear him squeal with delight, laugh from deep in his belly and clap his hands with such determination and I smile and I know I am finding peace as well.