When he was between 18 months and 2 years there was a significant change in N’s behavior. My smiling, good-natured baby became highly anxious, and unsettled. His behavior reflected this anxiety, it appeared that N was having difficulty coping with sensory processing.
One of the first strange behaviors I noticed was an obsession with spinning. Whether it was spinning objects or spinning of himself, both seemed to calm him. I used to spin him in the garden room by picking him up under the arms and twirling him around and around until I was dizzy, but he would plead for more. He would cry when I said “all done”. He would ask for a “pin” over and over during the day. It did not appear to make him dizzy. I felt at the time that spinning was not just fun, it was a need. So i tried to spin him as much as my stomach would allow!
As early as age 2 he was obsessed with ceiling fans. When he was a toddler and we were in the store, N would only be happy and not screaming if he was under a ceiling fan. In fact we got “stuck” under them, and I would not be able to get him to move out from under it without a meltdown. I quickly learned to alert him to the presence of other ceiling fans in order to get my shopping job done. If the store did not have ceiling fans, I did not go there with him. The effect of the ceiling fan was – calming.
When in the car Nick would fixate on the wheels of other vehicles. For a while it was motorcycle wheels that particularly captivated his attention. He called them moreesykos. When he was very agitated we would take him for a drive so he could find moresykos. He would cry and sometimes become frantic with despair, when we returned home after a drive: he knew that meant no more spinning wheels.
Between about 18 to 24 months he appeared to lose interest in “normal” playing, and started playing with toys “inappropriately”. Instead of pushing his toy cars about, he would spin the wheels and watch the spinning motion. I did try to model “normal”play, but he would focus exclusively on the spinning wheels. He showed no interest in imaginative play. The sensory properties of toys particularly repetitive visual, smell and taste was, and still is, what interested him.
Another form of inappropriate play was his habit of creating lines of random objects. These line-ups were very important to N and N would become extremely upset if the line-ups were disturbed. At first he would line up his toys. Soon he was lining up all manner of household objects taken from every room. This was a hard one for me. I did not necessarily enjoy seeing maxi pads in a lineup with hot wheels.
At 18 months there was no sign of speech and language. Initially we had social smiling and babbling. Social smiling and babbling then disappeared and the principal method of communication became screaming instead of speech. It was clear to me that he was having trouble processing speech sounds. Speech became noise pollution for him. I got that, I did never think for a second that he was anti-social, just that he could not distinguish speech sounds from other sounds in the environment. And that was the reason he started to avoid people. That was the reason he lost interest in his brothers who he watched with delight for the first 18 months. He became agitated when people came to the house, because that would generate conversation, noise pollution. I could hear him even though he could not speak: “Please do not interact with me, it is an assault upon my senses.” It was difficult to have a conversation with anybody, because N, as a toddler, and sometimes even now, would attempt to end it. But in the great scheme of things that was a relatively small challenge.
The most difficult change in his behavior was the sudden onset of inability to transition. After 18 months he became unable to cope with any sort of change. Whether it was a change of scenery or a change in activity, N could not cope. Even the simplest transition from inside the house to outdoors caused him to scream as though it was physically painful to him. At the peak of his inability to cope with change he was about 4 years old and had to watch the same episode of Mighty Machines repeatedly, just to get through the day? I could not manage to accomplish even the smallest task around the house during the daytime, unless I played the “At the Demolition Site” over and over again. The video had a run time of about 5 minutes, so i was very restricted in terms of what i was able to do. It was clear he was needing the familiarity of repetition. Where unfamiliar lived, so lived anxiety.
At 18 months he was slipping slip backwards. He seemed to lose his developmental gains. I did not know that was possible. After everything he and our family had been through, it was only beginning.