Patience– Easier Said Than Done

patience quote

According to WebMD, “Executive function is a set of mental skills that help you get things done. Executive function helps you: manage time, pay attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, avoid saying or doing the wrong thing, [and] do things based on your experience.”

Now bear with me for a paragraph. I have five parenting “guidelines,” if you will, that I feel may be key to helping a child persevere into becoming a productive member of society. In no particular order, they are: 1. Family, 2. Travel, 3. Spirituality, 4. School Involvement, 5. Volunteerism. While I did make these up, and I may have them in my mind, as a family we are not always all that great at following through with them. I am genuinely hoping that this doesn’t mean I’m raising future cat burglars or worse. With that said, I think we’ve got the family and travel guidelines down, and do pretty well with spirituality and school involvement most of the time. We have lacked in our volunteerism. Have we volunteered? Yes. Cameron has worked with us at a church to serve a community meal to anyone who needs it. We’ve raised money for family members in need by organizing a rummage sale at our church and have donated items to Goodwill, the animal shelter, the food pantry, a women’s shelter, and more. So yes, we do okay, but it’s not very consistent. I have been working hard to try to get our kids more involved with helping the community and an opportunity arose one weekend, so I took it.

A mass email was sent out at work, looking for people to help at a local food pantry, just to check expiration dates and sort food. I asked if my seven and 10 year-old would be able to help and was told that the 10 year-old should be able to sort food without a problem, but they don’t want anyone to get hurt since it’s in a warehouse. I heeded the caution and took the kids. Sorting food? No problem! Sorting is a skill my kids have! Their rooms may not look like it, but I have seen them sort socks, sports cards, and Pokemon cards, not to mention the fact that they have recently become interested in finding food expiration dates. This would be an easy way to help the community!

We arrived in good spirits after a great car sing-along. As we pulled into the parking lot, there was an open garage door with the sorters working diligently and very quietly. I mention this “quiet” thing because my kids are anything but quiet, and there was an unexplainably awkward and silent vibe in the room. We were met with stares and silence as we approached the sorting box. I knew only a couple of the people there, but that wasn’t a problem. Someone quickly explained the task and we dove in with little direction, as the task was pretty simple: Take cans out of the giant box in the middle, check the expiration dates, walk to put them in the appropriate boxes surrounding the giant box– corn with corn, Spam with meat, etc. We got to work.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or even with other people in your own kitchen, you know that there is a flow to the movement. You are always moving, as are the people around you, and you are aware of where they are as to not get in their way. Yes, there are always mishaps, but you apologize and quickly keep moving. This was the way the dozen or so people were moving from box to box, quickly and quietly like drones set to do work for the people.

Grab a can, check the date, walk to a box without running into other people. Easy, right? Umm. No… Not so simple for someone without executive functioning skills… It quickly became clear that this did not come naturally for Cameron—he was the Goldilocks of food sorting.  First, he was too fast, checking dates while turning and moving and never stopping to see who or what was around him. He ran into person after person, barely noticing when he pinballed off of them, leading me to offer constant direction and reminders while navigating the warehouse for myself as well. Next, he was taking his sweet time because he kept looking for specific foods that were not easy to find. He sat at the edge of the box, arms dangling in, pushing cans aside while looking for whatever particular unpopular item he wanted in that moment. I offered to help him—he finds the food and I put it away or I find one particular food and give it to him to run back and forth. He did not want this. It had to be his way, and he was soon making it clear that he was unhappy by whining about being thirsty, tired, because he didn’t like it, etc. I felt as if I needed to do double work to make up for the fact that Cameron was more than likely slowing down the operation. We took a break while they brought another box of food for us to unload. Cameron complained loudly enough for everyone to hear, while I tried to explain that this wasn’t something for him, but that we were helping other people.

We stayed for the second box, with Cameron still unloading it absent-mindedly with no attention to others—even those standing directly behind him. An added bonus during the second box, however, was the extra dose of arguing. Cameron’s sister, Amelia, said she wanted to find all of the tuna in the box (which was an easy-to-find item), and other people heard her so they’d hand her the tuna they found as well. Naturally, Cameron decided that he, too, was going to find the cans of tuna and make sure Amelia knew every time so she’d say, “No Cameron! I want to find the tuna!” I’m pretty sure I have the only kids in the world who can argue about cans of food to sort—tuna cans.  Really?

After the second box was empty, I quietly gathered my kids, walked to the car, and imagined the change in energy and flow in the warehouse after my cherubim were gone. Was this a total disaster? No. Was it embarrassing? Slightly. Was it a learning experience? Definitely. This was very hard for Cameron.

What I’ve come to understand more recently is that whatever label Cameron has–ADHD, SPD, NLD– his main “disability” is in his executive functioning skills. Things that I don’t recall being “taught” to me have to be explicitly taught to him. Case in point, this same weekend, I was encouraging him to do the dishes, which is another entire set of difficulties. There’s the sensory issues that cause him to be disgusted with touching food from the plates, in addition to the fact that I literally had to walk him through every step of the dishwashing process, down to the hand he uses to hold the plate and the hand he uses to hold the scrubber. I thought I was being pretty patient walking him through a task for 15 minutes that would have taken me five minutes or less. Apparently, however, I didn’t sound as patient as I thought because he said, “I hope when I’m a grown-up, I don’t have a kid like me.” Heart. Broken. Seriously, I think a tear just snuck out of my eye as I wrote that.

I am not a sugar-coater (unless there’s something that literally is better coated in sugar, then I’ll sugar that sh*# up like crazy), so what I’m about to say may not be pretty, but it is the truth… It is hard to have a kid like him, and he knows it. But I would never, ever change who he is. Also, I don’t think it’s “easy” to be a parent to any child. Every child has his or her own struggles and it’s their parents’ jobs to help deal with those struggles. Everyone has their stuff… it’s what makes us who we are.

As this kid’s mom, I know that there is nothing I can do to “fix” his executive functioning skills, but I can help him excel at things I know he can do and walk him slowly through the things that are difficult so they become more routine. More than anything, I need patience. I need to not expect him to do difficult tasks when we’re in a hurry. I need to realize that if I want him to learn to do certain things, it’s going to take many more times for him than it took for me to learn, and I need to provide him with that time. I need to build up his self-esteem like crazy whenever I can, because he knows about his struggles and they make him feel different.

I hope Cameron does have a kid like Cameron when he’s a grown-up because who better to understand what it’s like to have this particular set of struggles than someone who’s gone through it? Even more than that, I hope Cameron has a child like him because any parent would be lucky have a child as sweet, caring, smart, and generous as Cameron.

Blog Hop Pic


Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!


14 thoughts on “Patience– Easier Said Than Done

  1. I appreciate your perspective that you shared with this situation. It DOES take patience to have children with special needs…whatever those needs may be. Having a child who doesn’t just pick things up easily is hard. I appreciated that you mentioned the value of patience on your part, I believe that is so key when parenting our special children. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. “It is hard to have a kid like him…” I can so relate. And a tear snuck out of my eye, too, as I read this essay. Having a child with SPD or any special need forces us to look at ourselves in the mirror every single day. It’s so easy to remember the moments when I feel like I’ve failed my son, but I tried hard to remind myself of the moments when I’ve shined, too. These amazing kids teach us more than we could ever teach them. Thanks for sharing!

  3. We’ve never met, obviously but I read your blog and really appreciate the stories you share. My son is only 5, but struggles with executive function more than any other of his other diagnoses (SPD, ADHD). The idea that he has to be taught skills that were never taught to us, ones that we (and their siblings) take for granted, that we can simply sense and absorb as easily as identifying colors or sounds, is difficult to remember, especially when I so desperately want things just to go “smoothly”. And this is the rub, isn’t it? They won’t go smoothly as long as I keep expecting my son to function in activities that require him to use a sense that he doesn’t have anymore than they would if I were expecting a blind child to meet me by checkout aisle number 5 in a busy grocery store while I shopped for 15 minutes. And yet…this isn’t that obvious. Blindness is obvious–poor executive function is not. We are parenting these boys at a time when so much is not understood by those who study it, much less a wider social understanding of it, one that would develop societal protocols and understanding for managing life. So we need patience with ourselves too. Thank you for shining the light on this so that the rest of us can be reminded that we are all navigating in the dark.

    • My husband recently said (with tears in his eyes) that our daughter will never understand all the struggles our son experiences. Your insight is helpful. Thank you for reading and commenting. Maybe someday this won’t be such a mystery!

  4. I was just thinking it had been awhile since you had written…and I wake up to a notification! I am having my youngest evaluated in October because I suspect she too has issues with executive function. After reading your blog today I am almost positive that’s our issue. I say “our” issue and not “her” issue because it impacts all of us. By the way – if there is something to argue or fight about my kids have it covered too. Mine could just as easily fight over tuna – that statement in your blog actually made me laugh at loud because I am often incredulous about the things my kids can find to fight about – seriously! Enjoy the rest of your summer and keep blogging. Heidi

  5. I recently met someone with a 20-year old on the spectrum and he told me it took him five years to teach his son to do dishes. I’m not going to pretend that didn’t make my heart sink a little. But then he looked at his son with such love and I knew with all my heart that i would do what it takes, because with my guy’s executive function it may take more. But as you say, he’s the sweetest, most caring, smart, generous kid and parent could hope for…

    • I think about this comment a lot. I think about it in my most frustrating times, and I think of your response to it. We will do all it takes to help with whatever they need. Thank you!

  6. I found this really interesting. My son has issues with executive functioning too and while we are doing our step-by-steps learning he’ll tell me if my tone isn’t nice. He’s super sensitive to my energy, but I understand your dishes example as even dumping the trash takes us forever and we have to go over the steps every now and then. Glad the food sorting wasn’t too bad, they’ll remember the service.

  7. We struggled with executive function issues in our house… definitely connected to his off the charts ADD. It’s exhausting… and yes, I NEED more patience. 😀

    Thanks for being a part of the sensory blog hop!

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution, The Sensory Spectrum

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