Kate announced her arrival into this world with a lusty scream and flailing limbs. From the beginning she was in constant motion. Her tiny baby feet twirled like the propellers on a helicopter ready for take-off.
The bigger Kate grew, the more her body moved. Arms flapped, head shook, body twisted. By age 2 1/2, she could be found spinning in endless circles or running aimlessly back and forth across the room. She threw herself forcefully onto the ground whenever someone came into our house, and she developed a fondness for dragging her head across the floor.
It was at this time that we became concerned that something more might be going on instead of Kate just being an active little girl. Language development plateaued and did not progress beyond simple labelling of objects. Letters, numbers, colors, and cars were an intense obsession. Kate could walk through a parking lot and rattle off the make and model of every car, but she could not answer a yes or no question. Tantrums occurred with small changes in her environment, such as a chair being moved out of place. Instead of playing with toys, she lined them up or repeatedly put them into and took them out of a basket. Kate was evaluated by the county early intervention team and qualified for special education services for delays in all areas. A developmental pediatrician diagnosed her with autism and sensory processing disorder shortly after her third birthday.
Kate's first occupational therapist, Jo, was a sensory-trained OT who had a deep understanding of the autism spectrum and sensory processing disorder. Jo helped me understand the reasons behind Kate's constant movement and showed me how to help her. One of the greatest insights Jo gave me was the reason behind Kate's need to slam her body into things. To Kate, Jo explained, it might feel as though her body is floating in space. That feeling of being untethered, Jo continued, is the reason she seeks out that deep pressure; she needs to feel connected to something; this is how she experiences her world; this is how she figures out where she begins and ends.
Two years later, the floating in space analogy stays with me. It allows me to see life through Kate's eyes. That two people might experience the same thing in a totally different way and there's nothing wrong with that. That when we look through another's eyes, we understand them better. That we are all floating in space through this life and need to be connected to one another to help us find our way.