68: Parenting a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder | Dayna Abraham

Mothers of Misfits Podcast Sensory Processing Disorder

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Dayna was in shock as she sat across from the school principal and was told, “You need to find out what’s wrong with your son.” Soon after, Dayna discovered that her son has Sensory Processing Disorder. Listen as Dayna shares simple strategies for empowering our kids to express their needs.

  • “The principal looked at me and she said, you’ve got two options. You can let him take your son away, or you can take your son and not bring him back ‘till you figure out what’s wrong with him.” – Dayna Abraham
  • “I think that the world tells us so many lies and myths about what moms should and shouldn’t do. And that being a mom should be enough. Being a mom is an identity. Being a mom isn’t a job, it’s not a thing that keeps you going. It is who you are, but sometimes, we have something better inside of us that allows us to actually be a better mom, a better parent. It shows our kids that we can go for our dreams and we can take action on them. That we can overcome massive obstacles, that we can do things no matter what our circumstances are, no matter what our environment is, that we can reinvent, rebuild ourselves, and go save the world.” – Dayna Abraham
  • 1:07 – Feeling alone while parenting
  • 13:55 – Advice for moms of kids with intense emotions
  • 21:08 – Rediscover your spark as a mom
View Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

[00:00:15] Emily Melious: Welcome back everybody to Mothers of Misfits. Glad you’re here with us again today. And we’re talking with Dayna Abraham. She’s the founder of the Calm the Chaos Framework. She’s a best-selling author of the Super Kids activity guide to conquering every day and founder of the popular blog, Lemon Lime Adventure. She helps parents and education professionals unlock the unique, super powers in children, so they can live a more peaceful life filled with clarity, connection, and empowerment, by providing them with a proven plan designed to calm the chaos of everyday life. And there’s a lot of chaos in there. Dayna, thanks so much for coming on today.

[00:00:58] Dayna Abraham: Well, thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.

[00:01:02] Emily Melious: Yeah, we’ve got so much to talk about. So I just want to dive right in. I was reading through your website and on there you say that despite being a national board certified teacher with a background in early childhood, you spent the first seven years of parenting thinking that you were alone and terrible at parenting. So talk us through that. What happened? Because probably most people would think you had it all together.

[00:01:28] Dayna Abraham: Yeah, you would think that I did, but, so, being a teacher my favorite kiddos were the ones that came with a long list of things behind them. The ones that all the other teachers would warn you about and the parents would drop them off with their head, hung in shame, you know, like they’ve got that kid. Those were my favorite kiddos. So when I had my own kid, I really thought I got this figured out. Like not only have I been a teacher, I also, you know, kind of was a challenge to my mom growing up. Like I got this figured out, I’ll be good as long as I don’t have a girl. And so I had a little boy and so I was like, I got this, I can do this. It’s not going to be a mini me, so we’re good. And  when he was young, he spoke really early and he thrived on a routine and, you know, I thought everything was peachy.

[00:02:16] And then when he got to his first preschool classroom, he got kicked out and I thought, okay, well maybe it’s just the preschool teacher. Maybe they don’t understand him, maybe they just aren’t very accepting. So then I went to kindergarten and I got almost daily calls from school. When I would pick him up from school, he would have been the one that was in time out or in trouble. And then by first grade he was starting to get suspended and kicked out of school. By second grade, he was suspended more days than he was actually in school. And by third grade was when I got the call from school that I needed to come and pick him up. And I was nine months pregnant. And I drove as fast as I could to get to the school.

[00:02:58] I get there and there’s just this sea of people staring at me, and it was the counselors. It was the principal and assistant principal and the teachers. And it was also the police. They had called the police on my son and my son was in a glassed-in room in the office. These were people that I had taught in trainings,  I had been their mentor as a teacher. And here I was with the kid in the glass den room and the principal’s office. The principal ushered me back to her office, past my kiddo and sat me down in a chair. And there was a big policemen standing over me with his arms crossed. And the principal looked at me and she said, you’ve got two options. You can let him take your son away, or you can take your son and not bring them back till you figure out what’s wrong with him.

[00:03:43] And that is when I realized that something had to change, but I just, I felt like I had failed him. Like my worst nightmare had come true. Something that I don’t talk about a lot on the site is that I was raised with a very explosive brother who beat me up, who, as he grew up abused me, later was diagnosed as as bipolar. And I watched him, I watched his life just disintegrate and I watched him destroy every relationship he ever had.  As a, you know, a grown man, he is astranged from the entire family,  he’s broken every relationship and he’s been in and out of jail and institutions his whole life. And that was my biggest fear is that my son would hate himself or he would hate the kids around him or the people around him that were trying to help him. And he would become destructive like my brother.  So there, I was staring down, you know, my worst fear.

[00:04:41] Emily Melious: I can’t imagine getting an ultimatum like that. What did you do from there?

[00:04:47] Dayna Abraham: So from there, I mean, we were already in the process of trying to get him support at school and trying to get him diagnosises and trying to see what was wrong with my son. And at the same time I was reading all the parenting books, going back to all of the things that I knew about child development and everything that I’d figured out and, you know, through my teaching, and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. It was in that moment that I realized he just wasn’t going to fit into a traditional school. And so I decided to bring him home I just had those goals of, for him to not hate himself and for him to not hate the world around him. And I just went back to the books and went back to my studies and there was this one little boy that I had had in my preschool classroom, who was the first time I’d ever heard of it.

[00:05:30] He had something called sensory processing disorder and he was, constantly moving, always touching everything thing, you know, really loud and boisterous. And so I thought, Hmm, I’m going to go start reading up on this and see if this has anything to do with my kiddo. And that was the start of kind of studying and figuring out what was going on so that not only could I understand him and interpret his behaviors, but that he could then understand himself and so that he wouldn’t need explosions and massive meltdowns to communicate what he needed.

[00:06:08] Emily Melious: So how’s your son doing today?

[00:06:10] Dayna Abraham: He’s great. So he’s about to turn 16 and he still is homeschooled with me. He’s gone back into the school system several times and it works for a little while, and then it doesn’t work for, you know, it’s off and on. When the pandemic started, he was in a great school and he was thriving and starting to go back to the full, go back to the full high school, but when the pandemic happened he wasn’t going to get to do as much of the high school classes. It was more of the therapeutic stuff, which online just didn’t really work for him. So it was much easier with the added stress to just go back to homeschooling him. But he’s about to turn 16, he’s  able to stop himself, recognize that when he’s having a hard time, he’s able to even recognize  when my voice was groggy or I’m tired, he’ll say, mom, are you mad at me?

[00:06:54] Or is your voice tired instead of just jumping to the conclusion and, we’re in the middle of a move right now and he is handling it swimmingly well, like he just, he’s advocating for his needs. He’s speaking up, he’s hugging us and he’s doing all these things and he, he understands his body. He understands his brain in such a better way than he did. So he doesn’t need to lash out to communicate anymore.

[00:07:22] Emily Melious: That’s fantastic. And you have two other kids.

[00:07:26] Dayna Abraham: Mhm.

[00:07:27] Emily Melious: Have you chosen to homeschool them as well? And what informs your decision with them?

[00:07:33] Dayna Abraham: So with my other two, I have a 13, almost 14, and then an eight year old girl today. She just has her birthday today.

[00:07:41] Emily Melious: Oh, happy birthday.

[00:07:43] Dayna Abraham: Yeah. Yeah then, so, they’re both completely unique and have their own  struggles. And my middle son is dyslexic and struggles with some of that, but he’s the most outgoing kid and loves animals and loves caring and taking care of others. But with the pandemic, he decided he wanted virtual school. So he’s still in a public school, but he’s staying virtual, even when his friends went back. And then my daughter decided during the pandemic she wanted to do homeschool as well.  We’ve been homeschooling them, but as we’re coming out of all of this, they’re starting to all look at public schools again and getting back into a school system. So the thing that informed me really is kind of something that I discovered when I was working with my son and figuring out my son is that, one, he’s incredibly capable of sharing what he needs and wants, I just wasn’t good at interpreting it.

[00:08:39] And so giving him the tools to be able to share what he wants or needs without these meltdowns, it really opened up something that I didn’t even know was possible. Not only does it work with kids who struggle to communicate, but it works with all kids. So we have a practice in our family where, you know, we empower them to speak up and advocate for their needs and wants. And a lot of times people think that means that we let them walk all over or that we let them run the show. And that’s the complete opposite. What it is is that we have a mutually respectful relationship. And so I’m able to share my concerns. They’re able to share their concerns, and then we’re able to come to an agreement for what we believe is best.

[00:09:24] And even if I don’t believe it’s best, I need my kids to make their own mistakes. I need them to go out there and struggle and get challenged. And then us come back and say, well, this was my concern. And this is your concern. How would you like to change that now? And then we go back at it again. So, that’s kind of what informed my decision was just having these huddles and conversations with my kiddos.


[00:09:47] Emily Melious: I really, really love that. And it, caught me, as you were saying, about your decisions of how to do schooling, particularly in this last year, you said, my son decided, my daughter decided, and you know, I’ll speak for myself. It’s hard to know how much we should put on our kids on those major decisions, how much we as parents should be informing the decision. And I really admire that it sounds like, you know you’re part of the conversation, but you’re giving them a lot of opportunity to make decisions for themselves, even about things that are as important as education.

[00:10:20] Dayna Abraham: I mean, it’s, even to the fact in, some may gawk at this, when I say this, but you know, we’re moving and we went and looked at houses and, we didn’t want to make a decision on a house until our kids saw it and gave their opinion. And my oldest walked into a house that I had started to fall in love with, and I saw a lot of pros. I saw the cons that he kind of saw, but he walked in. He was like, Nope. No, not this house. And he knew immediately. I’m like, okay, I hear that you don’t like this house, but I need you to express what it is you don’t like about it. And he was able to say, it’s really choppy. The walls are sensory overload. Like, I don’t know that I could look at this every day. It overwhelms me. And you know, the back of the house, if the whole back of the house was like this, where it had bigger ceilings and was more open, it was like an older 1930s house.

[00:11:08] And then it had an addition in the back and the addition was much more open.  And he was like, and everything just feels really cramped. I feel like, claustrophobic in this house. And so I just took it to heart. And obviously I said, I’m going to listen to this. I’m going to hear what you say. And I hear your concerns. My concern is we’re struggling to find a house. I like older houses. I like this neighborhood. So I was able to kind of share with him what my thoughts were. And we ended up opening up our search and going and looking for, actually a house that had less bedrooms. And, we weren’t going to look at that. And so I went ahead, we went and looked at this house and I started to fall in love with it and I’m like, I’m not going to fall in love with it until my kids see it. So I decided to take them.

[00:11:50] And the minute he walked in, he was like, this is it. He’s like, this is amazing. He’s like, it’s so open. It feels really good. He was like, I don’t even care what room you give me. Like, I really love this. And he goes, but wait a second. What about the dogs? My concern. And he, uses the scripts we use. So he says, my concern is that, you know, the dogs don’t have grass to pee in, where are we going to put the trampoline? And, you know, and then all the kids were kind of rating the house at different times. And they were like, well, I give it minus one point for that, plus one point for this. And we just have very open conversations about little things like what should we eat for dinner and big decisions, like where should we live?

[00:12:27]Because I remember as a kid feeling like I had no control over what was happening in my life, it was all up to the adults in my life, whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. And some of the things that were decided for me, you know, I really feel like I was put in really uncomfortable situations growing up. And so giving them that power to be able to say, I really want to try this. Or, I really would like to look at this, or I don’t like this because, and really getting them to communicate what their concerns are and what their likes are in such a big way. It’s been so empowering for them. And it’s also what we teach all of the families that we work with as well. And it works, even if your kids have no language, which is amazing. So they don’t actually have to be able to speak this out. It’s just more learning how they communicate and then being able to interpret it so that they know you hear them and understand them.

[00:13:25] Emily Melious: That’s amazing. I love those specific examples just in the house buying process and that you’ve empowered your kids to not just give a response, but to talk through their feelings, the logic behind that. That’s going to serve them so well, not just now, but also in adulthood and having those respectful, but potentially, disagreements with other people, but work through that and have conversations about it. That’s amazing. I love it. I’ve already learned a lot from just that example. And I want to hear from you, Dayna, what advice do you have for moms of kids with intense emotions?

[00:14:02] Dayna Abraham: I think the number one thing is to remember that your kids are just trying to communicate to you. They’re speaking, maybe this is gonna sound maybe hokey pokey, but they’re speaking at a frequency that maybe you can’t hear kind of like a dog whistle. So they are communicating to you. They are telling you, that they don’t like what’s happening or that they are scared or they are fearful or they’re anxious or they are angry or that they’re really excited and happy, but it may come out in really disruptive behaviors. It may come out in whining and crying in tears. It may come out in refusal to go to school or refusal to eat foods. And so when we really can build up what we call moments of safety. So you’ll hear a lot of parent coaches talk about the, power of connection.

[00:14:50] And I think there can be a misconception of what connection means. And we think that we have to have yes days all the time and we have to play with our kids all the time and all those things are wonderful. But, when we boil it down to its basics, it’s really just providing them with the five positive interactions to one negative interaction. And this comes from the studies from Gottman Institute on marriage, but it works with all human relationships and it’s not just I played five games for every one time I yelled or we went and had ice cream and we went to the park and we snuggled in bed and I read a story and we played a game because I yelled one time. That’s not what this is meaning. What it means is when I’m talking to my kids, especially kids with, that are highly emotional. That struggle to communicate with words, what they’re feeling, then it’s about lowering our tone.

[00:15:50] It’s about lowering our shoulders. It’s about our facial expressions, what our eyebrows do when they’re starting to scream or cry,  what are our words saying? And all of those can create moments of safety outside of the moment and in the moment, so that, your child knows that they are safe around you. And then when you want to have these difficult conversations, then it’s a lot easier for them to trust you and open up. So that’s one piece is connection. The second piece that I want to add is understanding. I talked a lot about interpreting their signals. So we’ve boiled down to six specific reasons why kids behave the way they do. Actually, why most humans behave the way they do. And at the top we call it a funnel and you can kind of siphon things down instead of trying to throw darts at a dartboard or try to throw spaghetti at the wall.

[00:16:43]The number one is basic needs. And so really looking at, does your child, are they hungry? Are they tired? That’s the stuff that most parents will look at, but do they feel safe? Do they feel secure? Is there a big transition going on that makes that’s like kind of shaken their world a little bit? Are they feeling a little sick or under the weather? Are they anxious about something going on in their life? And let’s just be honest. After this last year, we all are disrupted in our basic needs being met. Right. Yeah. And then the next one is connection. So if all the basic needs are met, then you go down when you start checking connection and it’s not just did we play lately, but do they feel like they are seen and valued and accepted and heard?

[00:17:27]Or do they feel like they’re the bad kid or they’re always in trouble or they’re always doing something wrong or they are never good enough or they can never get things right. Even if they are giving that dialogue to themselves and they’re not connected with themselves, or they’re disconnected with a teacher, disconnected with a kid at school, disconnected with a family member, that’s going to affect their behavior and their emotions. And then the next layer, which I’m not going to go much further than this, because in these first three layers, you can solve a lot of it. But the third layer is sensory and this is something that I learned because of my son and because of that very first student that I had, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, and what I’ve discovered is that sensory is something that we all struggle with and that we all have preferences, likes and dislikes.

[00:18:15] So you may love roller coasters and I might get carsick or you might be a Daredevil and I might want to stay safe on the road and never  bungee jump or skydive. Those are all sensory preferences. You may love the smell of a certain perfume and it might gag me and give me a headache. And those are all sensory preferences. And we don’t think about that often as affecting behavior, but it does affect our kids’ behavior in a massive way. So that’s the understanding piece. So far we have really building that connection, understanding where the behavior is coming from and what they’re trying to tell you. And then we have that empowerment piece, like we were talking about earlier. Where you’re giving them scripts. You’re making a plan with them. You’re making it a regular daily habit to do what we call huddles, which is where you’re celebrating together, you’re discussing concerns and you’re solving a problem together.

[00:19:07]And making a plan for the future. So we have like ahead of the moment plans we’ll create with our kids or in the moment plans, we even have family success plans, and these are all things that we do to empower our kids, to be in control of their own life, feel independent, feel empowered to use their voice and advocate for themselves. And then the last piece that often gets forgotten is you like, as the parent, as the mom. Having a piece where, you know what you want, where you’re getting your needs met, where you are able to anchor yourself and recognize your own, we call them thought monsters, which are these limiting thoughts that come up in our mind that make it really hard to interact with our kids. It makes it hard to understand them. And it makes it hard to empower them because they’re all these things that we’ve been taught for generations that come up. Like you should never let them do that.

[00:20:02] Or how dare you, let your kids make the rules and, you know, or you’re just such a bad parent, you should know better. So all the different things that go into our head, being able to catch those, swap them, and then anchor ourselves in like a grounding moment so we can be the calm in the storm. So those four pieces are kind of, I know I went really deep, but that is our framework. That’s what we teach is you connect, understand, empower. If you do those four, not perfectly, not by any stretch, like Dan Siegel teaches that you, and has done the research, that you only need to get parenting 70%, right. That’s it. With the other 30%, you just have to help your kids make sense of the mistakes that were made. And when you use a framework like this, it’s about using a sprinkle from each piece and especially our kiddos who have emotions that are, you know, really on edge or highly emotional or they’re angry, or they have fits or meltdowns. This is the way to get to them in a way that nobody else has been able to.

[00:21:08] Emily Melious: That last piece about taking care of ourselves and getting clear on what we want and even carving out our own thing and finding our own spark is something that you’re really passionate about as well, because if we’re not in a good place, it’s really hard to help our kids get to a good place. And you have a big event coming up. Can you tell us about it? And hopefully those listening will check that out and participate. So what’s happening in just a week or so?

[00:21:38] Dayna Abraham: So in just a week we are doing a three-day live event and it’s going to be virtual, so you can go from anywhere in the world, but it’s all day. And we’re going to be going all in to help moms of, out of the box kids or challenging kiddos find their spark. Now we describe a spark as that thing inside you, that just makes you want to get up out of bed in the morning. That thing that helps you see your day through, even when you’ve had a really bad day, the thing that excites you, what wakes you up? All those things.  And I truly believe that as moms, the world tries to put out that spark. I think that the world tells us so many lies and myths about what moms should and shouldn’t do. And that being a mom should be enough. Being a mom is an identity. Being a mom isn’t a job, it’s not a thing that keeps you going.

[00:22:31] It is, it is who you are, but sometimes, we have something inside of us that allows us to actually be a better mom, a better parent, because it shows our kids that we can go for our dreams and we can take action on them, that we can overcome massive obstacles, that we can do things no matter what our circumstances are, no matter what our environment is, that we can reinvent, rebuild ourselves and go save the world. And so, during the three days we’re going to be helping moms rediscover themselves, what they like, what they enjoy, who they are, who they once were, and we’re going to be helping them discover this spark and light it up and show them a path to actually using that so that they can create a sustainable income from home without destroying the things they’ve worked so hard for.

[00:23:20] So, their family, their sanity, their sleep. We want to show them how to put all of that first and still have something for themselves. And so that is June 24th through the 26th. Super excited about that. And yeah, so that’s, what’s happening.

[00:23:36] Emily Melious: That sounds awesome. Well, we will make sure to include a link to that event in our episode insider. And if you don’t know what that is, you should definitely sign up right now, go to mothers of misfits.com, scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see a section right there. You can sign up for our newsletter. This means you get insider information about all of our amazing guests, including Dayna. Oftentimes they share some personal photos, you get to see more about their family and the things that they do with their work. But we will definitely include the link to that. So don’t miss out. Dayna. I learned so much in this conversation and just love that spark analogy. I talk about really similar things and just that feeling of, we got to take care of ourselves and then we can take care of our families and empowering our kids to speak that needs language and advocate for themselves. It’s all amazing. So thanks again, Dayna, for your great advice. And we look forward to seeing you at that virtual event.

[00:24:33] Dayna Abraham: I love it. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a blast.

[00:24:37] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com



Emily Melious

Emily Melious

Talent Management Consultant | Career Coach | Podcast Host

Dayna Abraham

Dayna Abraham

Author | Founder, Lemon Lime Adventures

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