Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My High Needs Child

The day I became a mom is definitely number one on the list of the happiest days of my life (sorry Mark). It was also the day that my world as I knew it did a back flip. I was responsible for my daughter now and her needs came before anything else. I was overjoyed and already exhausted (I went into labor at 9 pm and gave birth at 6:58 am) little did I know that the exhaustion was just beginning.

From day one we knew Ashlyn was a little spitfire. Isn't it funny that as a mom even on the first day of life you already have a perspective on your child's personality? We found out in that first day that everything we thought we knew about being a parent did not really apply to Ashlyn. She would cry of course, but this was no ordinary cry, it was an I am hungry and I want it now kind of cry. She really only slept for a few sporadic hours, and was very alert for only having been born that morning. She also had to be held and would cry her "need it now" cry if she was put down. We could also see in her little eyes that she was constantly studying the world around her. That first night was a rude awakening, OK never mind I didn't get any sleep that night so that might not be the right phrase. One of the few things I do remember about that night was our night nurse who made a comment, "I don't know why she is not sleeping, babies always sleep the first night." Ha Ha, not my child! Anyway these are the traits I saw the first day that gave me an indication of the ride I was about to take.

Looking back now I can laugh, but back then I was shocked!  Babies are supposed to give you hunger cues before they cry. I promise you I looked for them, but alas they just never appeared. A newborn is supposed to sleep 15-18 hours a day. Because mine didn't. You don't need to hold your baby all of the time. Really, because mine would freak out if I put her down. How could this be? Everything that I had read in books and that we were taught in classes just did not happen. These were supposed to be professionals giving this advice right? Ha Ha yeah right, I can tell you now after having experienced it myself most books and classes will not cover raising a high needs child. Through trial and error you will learn what is best for your child, your self, and your sanity.

OK, so many of you out there probably don't know what a high needs child is, and to be honest I had no idea myself until Ashlyn was about 18 months old. I just thought she was a little different than most babies, until I came across Dr Sears' website and the section High Needs Baby. I was so excited to find this little section on a website that helped me to understand my child a little bit better.  The 12 features of a high needs child are: Intense, Hyperactive, Draining, Feeds Frequently, Demanding, Awakens Frequently, Unsatisfied, Unpredictable, Super-Sensitive, Can't Put Baby Down, Not a Self Soother, and Separation Sensitive. Below are examples of how Ashlyn fits into each category now as a toddler.

Intense: We call this passionate. She has always known what she wants and just goes for it.

Hyperactive: She is always on the move. Mark commented that he wishes he could "bottle that up" and sell it as a new energy drink.

Draining: She always wants to share her adventures with the people around her.

Feeds Frequently: Even as a toddler she constantly wants to eat and out eats me on occasion.

Demanding: She constantly needs attention and wants to be involved in anything you are doing.

Awakens Frequently: She did not sleep through the night until she was 16 months old. Even as a toddler she is not a great sleeper. She sleeps maybe 9 hours at night with a 30 to 60 minute nap during the day.

Unsatisfied: This one has never really applied to her.

Unpredictable: You just never know if you are going to get a good day or a bad day.

Super-Sensitive: She wears her emotions on her sleeve (and her face) so you always know how she is feeling.

Can't Put Baby Down: Even as a toddler she still loves to be hugged, rocked, and cuddled.

Not a Self Soother: When upset she has a hard time calming down and lots of cuddles are the only help.

Separation Sensitive: She hates to see people leave. She will cry when people leave our house.

 Until you have lived with a high needs child you may not understand any of this or why it is so important to post. I have to say that the first 6 months were probably the hardest. At that point we quit taking people's advice and we did what we felt was best for our child. If you have a high needs child you understand how much advice people (even complete strangers) are willing to give. The best advice I can give since having Ashlyn is to do what is right for your family (and sanity) and take time at least once a week to do something that makes you happy even if it is just 5 minutes alone in the bathroom painting your toes. Because as the old saying goes if mama isn't happy no one is happy.

The best thing we did for our family was to embrace Ashlyn's qualities. It is OK that we held her all of the time as a baby and still do. It is OK that I cried right along with her on many a night. It is OK that we unintentionally co-slept and slowly transitioned her to her crib and then her crib out of our room at around 20 months. It is OK that she used a bottle until she was 16 months old. It is OK that I still rock her to sleep at 2 1/2 years old. It is OK that I take time for myself once in awhile. And it is OK that she does things on her own terms and not before.

We know that she is a passionate, creative, and intelligent child that puts her whole self into her activities. We know that as long as we embrace the traits that make Ashlyn who she is she will grow into the person she is meant to be.

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