The Importance of Being Messy

Noah came home from school yesterday with bright blue fingers. At first, I thought it was paint. And my heart soared.

Turns out, it was actually blue marker. But still. He didn't even notice it until I asked about it, and after examining his hands for a minute, he nonchalantly went back to his snack of a granola bar and juice.

"I drew a fireman," he explained. "It got all over my hands."


One of Noah's ongoing IEP goals -- and I realize this is one of those things that sounds silly, or even bizarre, to people on the outside of the SPD/PDD world -- is that he more consistently engage in "messy play activities without protest."

His first-quarter progress report on this goal was a resounding "meh" because while he'll occasionally tolerate glue or water activities, he still tantrums and runs away when it comes to fingerpainting or shaving cream or anything REALLY messy or sticky. At home, he tends to stubbornly hand me the glue bottle instead of dealing with it himself, though I've gotten him to fingerpaint all of ... once, and the same with shaving cream. It obviously wasn't his favorite (he basically did the bare minimum before asking to go wash his hands), but that's okay. As his occupational therapist says, "He doesn't ever have to LOVE it. He just needs to be able to PUT UP WITH IT without freaking out and turning it into World War III."

I mean, what grown-up among us doesn't at least have one or two texture issues that we've just never outgrown? I still, for the life of me, cannot bite into a raw onion or celery, and the feel of a turtleneck shirt or sweater makes me insanely uncomfortable. Certain synthetic fabrics put my teeth on edge -- the tactile equivalent to fingernails on a chalkboard. But it's true -- at some point in my life I learned to cope: I no longer gag and make myself throw up if I accidentally bite into the tiniest bit of raw onion (oh yes I did), I can now wear a cowl-neck sweater without my chest constricting and anxiety levels spiking ... and as for those synthetic fabrics? Eh. I've just gotten really good at spotting them from a distance and keeping clear.

Noah, being even more sensitive than I ever was, and also being, you know, 5 YEARS OLD, is not at that point yet. It's really, really hard for him. Dirty, messy hands cause him an almost physical sort of pain, the sight of a bowl of cake batter sends him running, and just the THOUGHT of purposely putting sticky wet paint on his hands and sliding them across paper is worth screaming and hiding in a preschool cubby over.

But. He's getting better. There were those two times at home, with the fingerpaint and the shaving cream. The time he stayed calm while his class cut open a pumpkin and he agreed to touch the squishy, seedy pulp with one finger. The time he glued googly eyes to a popsicle stick when an unexpected craft project table showed up at our farmers' market. He lets his teachers put stamps and stickers on the back of his hands almost daily now. He can eat an entire peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich without a mid-sandwich freakout over his sticky hands.

And yesterday, he came home from school with bright blue fingers.


Read More >