The Clumsy Thrillseeker.

I walk in and catch him standing on the loveseat in his classroom.  He is actually going to jump from there to the ground.  I stop him by yelling, “Get down from there!”  He yells back, “I’m sorry, mommy!”  He’s not really sorry.  This is his new standard gut reaction.  He’ll do it again as soon as my back is turned because it is part of his thrill seeker act.

Before he was diagnosed and before I’d ever heard of proprioception, I’d hear him running from one end of his “classroom” to the other, crashing into the walls on either side of the room, while yelling and laughing.  He’d throw himself on the floor – intentionally for the feeling it gave him.  I remember thinking how he was just a little boy full of energy.  I think back on that now and cringe at how ignorant I was.

You see, we all know about sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch but we don’t think about how our brains process our body’s movement and position.  Where is my right hand?  Where are my feet in relation to the floor?  It’s automatic, right?  Not so, for the little guy.  This is part of the sensory processing disorder that is common for children with autism and for other children who do not have the autism diagnosis.

With proprioception, our muscles, joints, ligaments, and connective tissues give our brain information about where our body is moving in space.  The information my son receives is somehow not correct or absent much of the time.   He does these crazy thrill-seeking activities to try and correct what is going wrong.  He will climb chairs and go to the top of jungle gyms, run, jump and spin.  All things that make me super nervous as a mom.

Good jumping.

There are methods that are used to help a child calm and organize himself.  Things that should help decrease these “sensory-seeking” behaviors.  Deep pressure that can come from bear hugs and squeezes and wrapping my son tightly in a towel are a couple of the things I’ll do to calm him.  Weighting him down with heavy blankets or having him jump on a trampoline.  Even with these activities and lots of running and jumping, he still retains the desire to climb, jump and crash.

I’ve caught him jumping all around my bed in a circle.  I seen him jump from his grandparents’ bed to a reclining chair in their bedroom when he thought we were all out in the kitchen!  I have to remind myself that he is not just a naughty monkey but trying to actually make sense of his world.

Figuring out his next move...

Other times, I see him walk across the very even, very low carpet or wood floor and he will trip over some invisible obstacle and go straight down to the floor.  This happens once to twice daily, at a minimum.  It’s like a high wire act – only his high wire is the floor.  He always just briefly yells out and then gets up and goes about his business.  Sometimes I want to laugh just because it looks so comical but I feel so bad for him that I hold it in.  He has not hurt himself from these tripping incidents (knock on wood) but he does try to make them into a big deal so I ignore to avoid escalation.

At least three to five times a day he will get out of our SUV in slow motion.  He will dawdle, hesitate and play with the lock on the door rather than face getting out of that vehicle.  It’s the retractable step on our SUV.  It opens up when the car door is opened.  It sits halfway between the threshold for the door and the ground.  My son almost always misjudges the distance between the car and the stair and the stair and the ground and comes tumbling out of the vehicle.  Usually, he can make it without falling but it is a slow process.

Of course to compound the problem, I’m usually in a hurry.  Trying to hurry him to get to school, to therapy, inside the house in the rain, or I simply have lost patience for the ritual on any given day.   When I do give up on waiting for him to process the information he needs to judge the distance and get out of the SUV, I usually just physically pick him up and set him down on the ground.  This is not going to work much longer.  My son is getting taller every day.  Soon he will be taller than I am and he will have to learn to cope somehow to get out of the vehicle without mom to carry him.

His abilities are still somewhat of a mystery to me.  He attends a gym class every Monday.  Last week, he threw a baseball 10 times further than the other kids – in the right direction!  His sensory issues are simply a work in progress.

We’ll keep working and hoping.  It would be nice for him to play sports.  It would be even better if he did not have to jump off the couch to find the floor.  Someday, we’ll get there without falling.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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12 Responses to The Clumsy Thrillseeker.

  1. For once I can EXACTLY sympathize with what you’re saying, Karen! That whole proprioceptive thing can be so tough on our little ones! This weekend, while visiting a friend’s house, Kaia took a huge tumble on the steps and has a big, ugly purple, bruise on her chin. And of course, wouldn’t our luck have it that today is school picture day? *sigh*

    I appreciate your giving the nod to kids like Kaia that have an SPD diagnosis without ASD (yes, I noticed that). Thanks so much for sharing the awareness. You made me smile inside. 🙂

  2. Melissa says:

    Clumsy thrillseeker, I like it. I may use that. It took my daughter a while to learn how to climb and jump (not run or fall)… now that she knows how she doesn’t stop. Nor does something in her way stop her. Person or thing. How do you explain that to somebody else though? Somebody who asks WHY she gets PT… since she jumps and climbs so well? Somebody who is a generation older and THINKS she’s wiser.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thank you for stopping in today, Melissa. I don’t think people really get this whole concept unless like you and I, we have that special mom-child love to help us get it. The older generation? That’s a good question. Have not even bothered trying that one. If you figure it out? Please let me know. 🙂

  3. I’ve always had a hard time explaining this symptom to other people. I think you explained it really well- might have to send this link to some family members who don’t get the “bouncing off the walls” thing.

  4. Lizbeth says:

    It does get better as they get older, or it has for us. You gave an exact description of Alex around the time he was four. He would trip and fall all over the place and yet later on try flying off the sofa to the ottoman just for the “feel’ of it. OT and PT do wonders getting their little minds and bodies wrapped around where they are in relation to things around them. Alex still has a fondness for spinning though…

  5. Brian says:

    I think I’ll cut and paste this on our blog. Thanks, this is fascinating. My son indeed.

  6. C... says:

    My Aspie does the whole getting out of the car super duper slow too. He has to touch everything or carefully put things where he wants them when he gets back in. It can be unbearable some days.

  7. eof737 says:

    The sports idea is a great one; he seems to have a great throw… a pitcher in training? Only time will tell but sports can be a great outlet for him. 🙂

  8. Big Daddy says:

    We’ve always called Griffin clumsy and uncoordinated. While he never was into the running, jumping, and crashing – it is obvious that his body is sending him mixed messages as to where his limbs are and what they are doing.

    If it helps, we know many kids that exhibited the stunt man like behavior you describe and they all outgrew it over time.

  9. TMBMT says:

    I find myself being a little skeptical about the sensory/spectrum issues involved in this type of activity/thrill seeking. It may be because I grew up falling all the time and having no clue where my feet are (we found out by age 10 that I have a rare peripheral neuropathy)… Or maybe it was that my brother used to want to wrestle all the time (which involved throwing me against walls/trying to knock his friends out/etc), but this type of thing just seems SO normal to me. And the clumsiest kids I knew growing up (even those that managed to be clumsier than me) are nowhere near the spectrum.

    My friends and I jumped off roofs, we swung on ropes that were falling apart, we destroyed beds, we rode down the stairs, we cracked our knuckles constantly and buried each other under mattresses. We spent as much time as possible any given day on merry-go-rounds and swings and slides and sit’n’spins and bicycles… and out of 10 nieces and nephews, I have at least 8 that were like this when they were little too. Constantly in motion, constantly pushing the limits…. and only 2 of them are on the spectrum.

    I have a hard time seeing where the line is supposed to be between “active and daring kid” and “sensory processing disorder”.

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