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What happens when a child's world doesn't make sense?

(Editor's note: The 11th annual Fraser, Ltd. Festival of Trees is being featured from now through Friday, Dec. 2, at the FargoDome. The West Fargo Pioneer is involved annually with the event, decorating an artificial tree that will be among the more than 150 on display for the public to view. A special event will be the "Cookies with the Claus Family" celebration scheduled for Friday, Nov. 25, from 1 to 4 p.m. This free activity will include photos with the Claus family, Games Galore, Sleigh Rides, Penny & Pals, and more. At the conclusion of the Festival, the decorated trees will be distributed to area families who would not otherwise have a tree for the holidays. Many people will pass through the FargoDome for various events during this period of time, also allowing those visitors the opportunity to view the trees. Fraser, Ltd. Events such as the Festival of Trees go a long way in helping provide funding for a variety of programs. The following story was supplied by Fraser, Ltd. Staff member Kim Zeeb, Special Needs Coordinator, focusing on Fraser Children's Services, one of the many support and service programs offered by Fraser, Ltd.)

Fraser Child Care Center is unique in that our mission is focused on inclusion. We provide a safe and healthy teaching environment for all children; children that are typically developing and those with special needs. When a teacher has a question, as the special needs coordinator, I like to go into the classroom and observe the child's behavior.

Walking into the Pre-Kindergarten room (4-year-olds), I am greeted with "Hey it's Kim" and "Do you like my sticker?" It doesn't take long to notice GJ's charismatic personality. This four year old knows how to win you over with his brilliant smile and hugs. He is a master at driving toy cars around a make-believe track and, of course, his favorite car always wins.

Imagine that.

What most of us could not imagine is how nicely GJ is able to play now. It wasn't that long ago when he was smashing toys together and breaking them; throwing objects across the classroom, and screaming and yelling as he was walking down the hallway. He would emotionally fall apart and cry and scream for no apparent reason. Most of the time his teachers could not predict when he would go off and it was difficult for him to make friends. He was usually filled with anger and he would walk up to an adult and yell, "I am mad." But when he was asked, "Why are you mad?" he would yell back, "I don't know."

We are beginning to find out the "I don't know." While being evaluated by an occupational therapist, it was determined that GJ was showing a definite difference with touch processing, sensory seeking behaviors, as well as behavior outcomes of sensory processing. All of which was affecting his engagement and appropriateness in home and childcare environments. So what does that all mean? It means GJ has trouble making sense of what is happening inside and outside his body. He has behavioral/tactile processing difficulties.

Children with sensory integration issues usually have a dual diagnosis of Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, although it can exist by itself.

Most children/youth have little or no problem with their brain interpreting information sent to it via the senses. They find no difficulty in tuning out the slight hum of the refrigerator or traffic noise from inside a car. But those with sensory processing difficulties do. Their reactions to the world may seem odd, lacking in confidence, defiant, rude, or "wacky." Some children may show maladaptive responses to ordinary situations that are handled well by others: fidget in their seat, are impulsive and show little self control, frequently touch objects, appear clumsy or careless, and utter self-deprecating remarks (I'm stupid" or "I can't do this stuff.")

In the 18 months that GJ has been at Fraser Child Care Center we (Child Care Director, Special Needs Coordinator, Classroom Teacher, and his parents) knew something was bothering GJ but couldn't put our fingers on it. He frequently appeared to not hear what others were saying; he would seek out all kinds of movements, and have a need to touch certain toys, surfaces, or textures. It was common to see GJ take excessive risks during play and seek out opportunities to fall without regard for personal safety.

It often becomes trial and error when trying to find out what is going to work as an intervention technique. GJ started with a Behavior Plan to help him calm down and cope with his feelings and emotions. But his outbursts increased so we encouraged his parents to consult with their health care provider for an occupational therapy evaluation. When sensory issues were identified, GJ began doing heavy work activities but he wasn't able to stay calm for a decent period of time. So we moved forward.

Next, Fraser provided him with a weighted vest to wear at the key times when he would have outbursts. We began to see results. His sensory system was craving that input that the weighted vest was providing. There was a decrease in frequency and length of outbursts. He began to ask to wear it more often. He was sitting for story time, paying attention to the story without being disruptive. He wasn't calling himself, "stupid." It appeared that this was working but he still struggled at naptime - antsy, angry, and defiant.

Fraser incorporated a weighted blanket and there were positive outcomes for GJ. He went from barely resting his eyes to full body rest. He would wake up content, happy, and ready to continue on with his day.

Of course every day is a new day filled with endless possibilities for GJ and every child. GJ may have days that are difficult but he may have days that aren't. He continues to seek out textures and objects throughout the day to stimulate his brain but he doesn't have the frequent outbursts. GJ's parents and Fraser Child Care continue to talk daily and as troubles appear we will figure them out together - we will work as a team to give him what he needs to thrive.