the red flags that weren’t really red

This parenting thing, man. So much has happened since this summer that has taught me a lot about my kids (and myself). I’m not really sure how to dive into this topic, so I’ll just pour a glass of wine and jump right in.

Some events from this past summer (and prior to that, if I’m being completely honest with myself) left me immensely frustrated. Without getting too terribly specific, we had some eye opening experiences that left us feeling like a) our older two children are not on par with other kids their age, and b) we were complete failures as parents.

Of course neither of those is 100% true. Rachel and Claire are not lagging behind their peers to a detrimental degree, and well, every one of us fails at this parenting thing at one time or another.

When we had our 7 year well check in July (never mind that they turned 7 in March – see above comment about parenting fails), our pediatrician asked if I had any behavioral concerns, and since I’m super discreet in front of my kids, I gave all the wiggly eyebrows and hand signals to designate “MAY WE SPEAK IN PRIVATE PLEASE.”

Honestly, I can’t even remember what particular issues I had wanted to discuss in private. We had had some difficulties with Rachel being a bit explosive at times and showing inability to control her anger. I also feel that she struggles with mild anxiety. For both girls, we’ve struggled with impulsiveness and not necessarily not listening per se, but not really grasping the point of what we were saying, not getting it.

Our pediatrician – with whom I’ve always been able to speak candidly – nodded in understanding and said noncommittally that a few things had crossed her mind as she’s watched the girls grow. ADHD. Asperger’s. And in response to the “shocked but reeeeeaallly trying to look open-minded” look on my face, she went on to explain that if that were the case, it’s likely on the very low end of the spectrum, and many MANY kids go on to lead highly functioning lives.

When I pressed her, she listed off some of the girls’ most obvious (and cringe-worthy) habits: tendency to touch things and people without consideration, inability to control the volume of their voice, asking the same questions over and over, occasional uttering of strange, random sounds.


The thing is, I told her, most of those things I attribute to them being twins. The two of them literally have no boundaries. They’ve been touching almost constantly since conception and are practically inseparable. When it comes to other kids, well…it just doesn’t occur to them that their friends may not react well to constant hugging and random face touching. Our discussions on personal space just haven’t sunk in. And the volume thing? Our house is LOUD. Everyone is always talking over everyone else. Even me. I just know to turn the volume down when having a regular conversation. Sometimes.

And our pediatrician agreed. I love her because she listens to me, and she knows that I know my girls better than anyone else. She admitted that she hadn’t thought of that, and it made sense. At their age and with the evidence presented, she was NOT eager to diagnose them with anything. These were all just things to keep in mind.

We moved to the subject of physical abilities. I had noticed that the girls had trouble with certain feats, mainly balance and core strength. Bikes that I got them at a young age went unridden, as peddling and steering was too much at one time. We went straight to 2-wheel scooters at age 6, and they have been a struggle. Looking back, they had always had a little difficulty climbing, balancing, jumping. Nothing that would keep them from playing on a playground, but things that would keep them from taking chances and learning new things. Difficulty with these activities caused frustration, which caused lack of desire. If it wasn’t easy to pick up, they didn’t want to do it.

It’s possible that a lot of these things wouldn’t have occurred to me if we didn’t have a younger daughter who is extremely physically agile for her age, not to mention determined as hell and a high risk-taker. Her successes only made the big girls’ lack of physical abilities stand out more. All kids develop differently, but they were struggling with things they shouldn’t have been struggling with anymore.

Our doctor suggested occupational therapy (OT). It wouldn’t hurt, she said, to get them evaluated and see if they would benefit. And the therapists could also give them tools to cope with impulsiveness, anxiety, anger, basically all of the emotions that my girls seem to feel to the extreme. I mean, all kids get angry, but we were dealing with some next level shit here.

When I asked if this – the physical shortcomings, the emotional immaturity – were a product of their prematurity, the doctor shrugged. There’s really no way to tell, she said. Lots of preemies end up needing OT, as do plenty of term kids. Rachel and Claire didn’t show any obvious need for early intervention as babies and toddlers. They hit their milestones only slightly behind suggested markers, which was to be expected. Had I realized that their lack of core strength and balance was abnormal, I would’ve mentioned it. Sometimes these things just don’t show up until later, when you (and I mean ME) realize that your kids are struggling a bit.

Now that we’ve started, OT is basically the best thing we have ever done for these kids. Our evaluations showed that they are about 2 years behind on motor skills, balance, and core strength, all things that can affect productivity and attention span. They do strengthening moves and yoga. Rachel’s therapist taught her how to tie her laces, something I had been fearing pretty much since she started wearing shoes. But she got some sweet new Chucks for school, so we needed to figure it out. It’s basically an hour of play for them with someone – most importantly not me – cheering them on.

The most eye-opening takeaway from OT came when Claire’s therapist mentioned, quite candidly, that she is a “sensory seeker.” I’d say Rachel deals with this too, but not to the same degree. And then so many things from the past 7 years all fell into place. The random touching. The grabby hands. The petting of friends’ hair as said friend looks a tad squeamish. She reaches out to touch anything and everything impulsively, without thinking. It doesn’t matter how many times I admonish her or tell her to keep her hands to herself. She just can’t help it. And I started to look at it as something she was having difficulty controlling, as opposed to ME having difficulty controlling HER.

Playing with her hair – one of her many constant fidgets that I never realized was a sensory-seeking activity.

So this is where we are right now. I feel like OT has opened this secret door to Rachel and Claire’s inner workings, allowing me to understand them better. I can’t help but kick myself a little for not seeing these red flags sooner. But the thing is, the flags weren’t really red. When I acknowledged how difficult it was to take my three kids anywhere, I was hearing the exact same lamentations from my twin mom friends. Only after being shown the answers did the questions really start to arise.

I had a long conversation recently with a friend about her experiences with OT (her two children are on the spectrum).

“They taught me how to be a parent,” she admitted, explaining that at one time they had early intervention therapists coming to her house twice daily. “THEY POTTY TRAINED MY SON.”

I missed out on that perk, but the therapists do give me tools to use as a parent to help keep things consistent at home, things that maybe someone born with more parental instincts would already know. But I never claimed to have many of those to begin with.

As difficult as it is to hear that your child has some sort of special needs, it’s also a relief. Because you’re not crazy! And while you left that one event frustrated and near tears, saying, “You know, I just feel like at ages 7, 7, and 5, I should NOT still feel like I am constantly herding cats,” now you understand WHY. And the therapists are helping give you the tools for a better cat-herding experience.

[end cat metaphors]

Join the Conversation


  1. Holy shit can I relate to this.
    Ella was originally diagnosed with SPD when she was 4 then officially diagnosed with ADHD when she was 5.
    ADHD has a lot of Asperger’s symptoms too so I can relate to everything you said above.
    Friend, you and I need to TALK.

    1. We do! Come to Texas.

      I’m not happy you’ve been through it, but it’s nice to know someone relates. We’re still waiting to see if anything else (i.e. ADD, ADHD, etc) comes of it, but at least we’re on the right track.

  2. Oh wow. So much of this feels like my life. We’ll need to talk. Also, I’ve always chalked up their touching to the fact that they have touched each since , well conception. Jacob needs to touch my arm before falling asleep and both boys play with their hair, twirling around a fingertip as they play, do homework, talk about something etc.

    I’d love to swap stories! Also, I’d love to have them meet. I wish we lived closer. 🙂

  3. this parenting thing – – always a carnival ride.
    I really appreciate your candor and honesty with this post. We’ve been dealing with some wonky stuff which gets further complicated because she’s adopted we don’t have all that much genetic information.
    And it’s amazing how, when I wasn’t asking other moms some of my questions and sharing, how isolating it all felt.

    1. Thank you, Carla. I have definitely felt a little alone in the past several weeks when we were in limbo and still wondering what was going on. And I actually hesitated to write this because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be that honest, but in the end, that’s why I started this blog – as a record-keeping tool. And if in that, it make someone else feel less alone, then it’s all worth it. xoxo

  4. The title of this post is perfect because that’s the thing, sometimes the flags are reddish to pink. Or even like, “rose” colored. 😉 I can relate to this some as well… I am so glad that things are going well at OT!

  5. This parenting gig sure is tough. Glad the therapy is helping out! Kudos to you for knowing your kids and knowing when to speak up when you think something may not be right.

  6. Leigh Ann, you know I’m the mom of a kid with sensory and motor disorders. So my heart really goes out to you reading this. I’m so glad your girls are in OT and you’re seeing positive results. It’s a journey that will have plenty of forward, sometimes some seemingly backward steps. That’s the nature of the beast. But every cloud has a silver lining, right? At least in our case, and I’m guessing yours, too, that high level of sensory need also means you have sensitive children capable of deep empathy and awareness of the emotional situations around them. Which means they can be anxious, angry, nutty…and really loving and giving humans. Even if they can’t control their responses to the input sometimes.
    There’s absolutely zero parenting fails here. There’s a serious parenting high-five in order, though. You had concerns. You looked for answers. You got your kids the assistance they need to learn to manage their bodies and environments. Great job. You’re all perfectly doing life. It’s so damn lifey. And I’m always here if you want to chat. Feelings, therapies, and the inevitable funny stories. Love to your fam.

  7. You are fantastic. Your family is fantastic. Saying out loud how important it is for your girls to get guidance from people Not You is hugely important. I am almost pumping my arms with joy that we live in a world where there is OT and where you all can benefit from its insights and framework for the dynamics.

    I’m so glad you wrote this.

    1. Thank you, Jocelyn. I’m so glad we have that option too. And I’m glad I had the balls to bring it up to our doctor. It’s not an easy thing to admit, that you’re struggling.

  8. Your girls are lucky to have you as their mom. You’re not afraid to reach out for help in order to be the best launching pad for them. And in the meantime, you’re teaching them that it’s important to take care of yourself as well as others. Well done, mama.

  9. Oh boy, I get this post so much. I have had similar experiences and feelings with my JT. It makes so much of a difference when you have drs and therapists and teachers that you can trust and that understand and respect your kids and you. I’m glad you have a good team of people.
    Love this post, love you and love what a good, thoughtful, loving mom you are.

  10. So glad to hear that the OT is working. I went to a school that had a major occupational therapy program, and it’s really, really some wonderful stuff that they do.

    I find that I commonly worry about CJ — he has a *need* to be in physical contact with those whom he loves . . . it means that it’s seldom that I get to eat a meal at home where he’s not hanging on me, or trying to sit in my lap, or something like that. When he gets angry, it’s seldom for a reason that one should get angry (like Leila not sitting where she should in karate or for me not paying enough attention when he’s asked me to “watch this, dad!”), and he starts yelling — sometimes even turning violent. As it stands, right now, it’s mostly just “rambunctious boy behavior,” but it’s something that I keep a very close eye on.

    1. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell between typical kid behavior and “maybe not so typical” kid behavior. Especially when you’ve accepted certain things as being your kid’s quirks. It was an eye opener for sure.

  11. I appreciate this post so much. We’ve got some similar stuff in our world and have been batting around similar conversations/questions. It’s so hard to know what warrants outside help and what doesn’t! So happy for you that it’s helping. Parenting success! (not fail)

    1. It is super hard to try and discern typical kid stuff from “maybe this isn’t typical after all” kid stuff.

  12. So much of what you describe here can also be chalked up to just-kids-behavior, so it is definitely not a flag of any color. And you are not a fail! That your girls are now at OT proves that. Sometimes, it just takes some of us (me) a little longer to get where we need to be on this parenting road. You rock.

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