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HERd Management: When farm moms have to make tough decisions for their kids

Amber McComish for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 April 2021

That was the exact moment when I knew those kids and farming ideologies were not going to be us.

“I think your son may have sensory processing disorder,” the doctor said to me. Meanwhile, said son is literally bouncing off the walls, grabbing random objects and throwing them, putting every godforsaken thing in his mouth, and I have my foot on the door so he can’t run away.

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He was acting like a cat trying to avoid water, scrabbling and screaming and wanting to abort mission at all costs.

What is sensory processing disorder (SPD)? WebMD states it is a condition where the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes through the senses. My son is what you would call a sensory seeker. This is important to note when describing the situation above. He craves touch and input. Putting things in his mouth is a big sign of SPD. Yes, it’s normal to a point. But the throwing, he was seeking input from me. When he started throwing, I grabbed him and sat him on my lap and started hugging and rocking him. He wanted out of that room. Why? Our doctor’s office is in an old building. There was constant creaking when people walked by; you could hear kids crying and people talking. His sensory system was in a huge overload and the only way he could cope was to act out. My doctor saw this, and I am glad for it every day since.

The trouble was to figure out how to help him. It has been our struggle as a family for the last two years. We have tried an array of things, including expensive physical therapy, brushing him with a small brush to stimulate his senses every 40 minutes, vitamins, melatonin, magnesium supplements, chewies, fidget spinners; I could go on. Some worked short term; some worked for a couple weeks. None of them proved to make a significant difference for an extended period of time. This is so disconcerting, and I cannot even begin to describe the frustration. I have read that most children with this disorder just eventually grow out of it or learn to take better control of their bodies and emotions. I cannot say we have hit that mark yet. But I can say, we have come a long way.

When I tell people why my son is acting out, they tend to ask what caused this, which is a valid question. And the truth of it is no one really knows. SPD has been linked to preemie babies, abused children and trauma in the womb, but none of these are scientifically proven. When I was pregnant with my son, we happened to go through some of the biggest trauma and stress of my life. We had a barn fire that destroyed our parlour. I was managing our 200-cow herd at four different locations. My husband was hauling feed 45 minutes away in the middle of winter, and we were trying to rebuild.

After reading those possible causes, it took me a long time to forgive myself for possibly being the reason he is the way he is. I’ve admitted this idea to a few people, and they immediately say it could never be my fault, but the feeling is still there, lingering without answers. Although, in the process of helping him, I have learned better ways to help myself. I know when I need to have a break, and I know when I need to ask for help. I have become a better parent because of him. Lord knows my patience has probably tripled; not that I had much to begin with, but we have grown together nonetheless.

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Having a son with this disorder has greatly changed my view of parenting and parenting on the farm. I had visions of bringing the kids with me to work every day, them splitting time between Mom and Dad and learning the value of hard work – all the things I learned and experienced as a child. For us, it was just not in the cards. We tried bringing him to the farm. He would bolt and run, not knowing or caring where he was going. He pressed all the buttons in the tractor; he could not be left alone for a second. The risk was too great. One day, I was feeding calves and got acid and detergent for the pasteurizer. He followed me into the milk house and demanded to pump the dispenser. I said no. While I was explaining why, he pushed me and threw himself on the ground in a full-out tantrum. Can you guess what happened? He got acid-detergent mix on the both of us. He ended up going to the hospital for that. It was minor, but that was my turning point as a farm mom. That was the exact moment when I knew those kids and farming ideologies were not going to be us.

I have been criticized for my choice by some, and I let that burden weigh me down for a long time. But then I remember those moments where he would run off and I couldn’t find him and hoping he didn’t run in front of a tractor or wander down by the manure pit. My choice as a parent in my situation was to keep him safe. He now goes to school part time, and his grandma watches him. When the weather is fit, we all go visit the farm, and sometimes we do work. I usually try to not have an agenda when we go because when my son is around, I have to base the schedule off him. One recent day, he fell in the mud. He immediately stripped. He cannot physically handle wet clothes of any kind on his body. He cannot function. I had intended to help one of our workers feed calves, but instead I had to haul a half-dressed boy and two other kids to the house so he could change.

My son has many quirks and challenges. We are still navigating and learning what those all entail. In this column, I have confessed my biggest farm-mom guilt moments in hopes they may help another mom out there going through a similar thing. If you are that mom, feel free to reach out and find a brother (or sister, in this case) in arms. Because every day is a new battle yet to be fought and a mountain we have to hurdle, so he can get to the next one. Maybe eventually those battles and mountains will become smaller and more attainable.  end mark

Amber McComish
  • Amber McComish

  • Dairy Producer
  • Darlington, Wisconsin
  • Email Amber McComish

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