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Taming Transitions: How Zoning Out Helps My Daughter Be All-In

Taking a moment to process the sounds, sights, and smells of a new environment puts things in calm perspective for Lee.

Girl with ADHD and sensory problems sticks her head out of the car window
Girl with ADHD and sensory problems sticks her head out of the car window

“Lee,” I called. “Its 4:15…We have 15 minutes!”

She raced down the hall, and we ran to the garage, hopping into the car. I started the engine and looked at the clock. After two months of driving Lee to educational therapy, you’d think I’d have the timing down, but I always push it.

My mind started seizing on the best route, how to make the most out of the minutes left, and if I’d be paying for the minutes we weren’t there. When will I ever learn?

Thanks to a rare occurrence of the roads being fairly empty, we pulled into the office driveway at exactly 4:30. I hurried out of the car and started toward the building, then turned back when I realized I was alone. Where was Lee? I could see the back of her head in the car. She was still in her seat, staring straight ahead. I yanked open her door, trying to stay calm.

Her eyes, a little unfocused, slowly took me in. “Hey, Mom.”

“Come on, we’re late.”

“I’m transitioning. Give me some time.”

I backed away and blew out a breath. Lee and I were so different. I always ran through a checklist in my head, barely taking in one environment before jumping into the next, on the fast track to achieving my goal.

But for Lee, who has ADHD and struggles with sensory processing, it’s important to take a few minutes and, as she puts it, “zone out.”

It’s the chance to process the change in her surroundings and take in the new sights, sounds, and smells. And the fact that she understood this now, at 17 years old, was a big milestone in her development. Next time, there’d be no pushing her out the door. I needed to build in extra time to the drive and give her a chance to transition.

I watched her get out of the car slowly, as if she had all the time in the world. It reminded me of when she was in elementary school and she wouldn’t go into the classroom. Her occupational therapist suggested spinning in circles on the lawn outside the class, and it did the trick. It grounded her so she could step inside the room. In middle school, she made the change from car to classroom with the deep pressure of a backpack and a 10-minute walk around the campus.

Zoning out in the car today wasn’t just so she could move forward; it helped her close out what came before. Every morning, when I dropped her off at high school, there was no time to zone out. But the last thing she always did was to take a minute and stare into the car, lock eyes with me, and say, “Have a nice day, Mom.” Then she took a deep breath, turned around, and squared her shoulders, ready to become one with the pack of students walking through the gates.

On the way home from educational therapy, Lee punched on the radio and one of our favorite songs began to play. We were singing along as I pulled into the garage. “This is my favorite part, Lee,” I said, closing my eyes. When the last notes played out and I opened my eyes, Lee was leaning into the car, studying me, a smile playing on her face.

“Transitioning?” she said.

I grinned. “Yeah. Feels good.”