The Importance of Being Messy

Being a Mom 13

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.


autism, boys, developmental delays, nursery school, play, tantrums, toddler activities, toddler development


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tntmo... tntmom1027

sounds like my son..tried to get him to fingerpaint multiple times.. nope.  At least now he's ok with falling in the dirt at the park...brushing his hands off (instead of me doing it) and going on like it didn't happen. 


But no sticky slimmy messes lol 

nonmember avatar Christine

It used to be a drop of condensation from a cold drink landing on her clothes would cause my daughter to strip naked in the middle of the mall in approximately .6 seconds.

Three years, and lots of work later, nothing phases her. It took a lot of work and a lot of assuring her "It's okay, it's no big deal..." but we've finally reached a point where it's no big deal.

Jean Stimey Winegardner

He's a rock star! Way to go, Noah! He's better than me. I would FREAK OUT if I had leftover...anything on my fingers.

nonmember avatar Carolyn

I worked with a kid on the spectrum who, when his fingers were salty from eating crackers, would hold his milk cup with his fists to avoid getting it dirty. I was so excited the first time I saw him look at his salty fingers and then wipe his hands on his pants ;) That kind of achievement is one most people don't appreciate, but I for one understand why being messy can be such a great thing! :)

tyheamma tyheamma

This is sing-it-from-the-rooftops awesome! I know how hard it is to reach goals like this.

Chris... Christy_517

Wow! That's awesome! Great job Noah! :-)

nonmember avatar J

I had a similar condition as child: I couldn't tolerate the feeling of size tags at the back of all my clothing, strong flavours, texture of meat, loud and sudden sounds ... today, all of these things I still feel strong feelings of aggression whenever I encounter them.

LadyK... LadyKatya

Yay Noah for making great progress!  And congrats to you for working so well with him to help him out. 

I laughed when you talked about textures and such bothering you.  I have 2 things that I cannot handle.  The first is turtlenecks.  I am getting to where I can wear a loose turtleneck for a brief time, but most of the time I have intense panic attacks.  I have no idea why, but the first one that I remember happened while I was in training for a job and had to sit there pulling at the collar and sweating profusely for over 2 hours before we had a break.  Very scary. 

The other issue I have is with using a broom on a carpet.  I am getting creeped out right now just thinking about it.  I cannot even be around other people who are doing it.  Again, not sure why but it is bad! 

Again, good work to you and Noah and everyone involved in his plan.  Keep it up!  :-)

nonmember avatar Tammy

Isn't it funny how we really all do have some kind of texture and touch issues? I cannot stand velvet or someone "stroking" my arms - it is almost painful. I almost have my husband trained (after 10 years) not to do that or he'll get a different response then he had hoped. :)

tonya... tonyalynn

my daughter is messy, no matter whats shes doing.

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