Zak and Wheezie: When Siblings Have Sensory Processing Disorder

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Who knew a two-headed dragon from a 1999 cartoon could give my family such hope?

If you’re at all familiar with Dragon Tales, then you already know of this incredible two-headed dragon named Zak and Wheezie. I am impressed by creators who thought that conjoined twin dragons wouldn’t be creepy. And they were right. Its actually adorable. 

But mostly I love Zak and Wheezie for making me more optimistic about my family’s future.

Zak is the cautious one, pessimistic and fearful, and always trying to get his sister to slow down. Wheezie is the opposite: messy, fun-loving, and ready to jump and run after whatever she sees. 

These are my two kids: Zak is my sensory-avoidant little guy whose favorite words are “Oh no!” and “Help! Stuck!” He is terrified of things like the portable heater, bouncy castles, the mall and the beach. He doesn’t cuddle, but loves to wrap his arms around our legs and then run away. He has poor eye contact. He plays independently extremely well, but melts down quickly when a toy is not behaving as it should. 

His sister, Wheezie, runs right at adventure, jumps from frightening heights, and “splats” onto surfaces with surprising regularity. She is the kid at soccer practice who doesn’t kick the ball but does a belly flop on top of the ball, which isn’t horrifying to mom at all. She loves water, is afraid of nothing, and is, at times, a danger to herself. 

We have many videos of Wheezie running right into the ocean, squealing with delight, while Zak runs in the opposite direction in fear, yelling, “Oh no!”

Zak is sensory-avoidant. He manifests many of these common characteristics. He:

  • walks on toes
  • doesn’t initiate physical contact except when scared or jealous
  • avoids the water
  • hates having his hair washed
  • hates having his diaper changed
  • gets overstimulated quickly
  • is easily frustrated
  • is poor at problem-solving
  • is generally anxious and fearful
  • is ok as long as he can control his own environment
  • is a picky eater
  • hates sunscreen and bug spray

Wheezie is sensory-seeking. In any ways, she is the opposite. She:

  • spins around for no apparent reason
  • has an unusually high tolerance for pain
  • loves the pool, beach and sprinkler
  • dumps out toy bin just for fun
  • pulls on blankets and other people’s shirts, etc
  • slams doors
  • can’t sit still for long
  • chews on shirt or blanket
  • prefers to be barefoot
  • loves spicy foods
  • wants to wrestle siblings
  • climbs very high for her age and jumps from high heights
  • loves to “splat” on people, furniture, pillows, pools, etc

Together they are a team in our house, often a team in conflict, as Wheezie’s spontaneous, physical, (sometimes aggressive) play is usually the LAST think Zak feels like dealing with.  He’d prefer to line up his Paw Patrol toys on various surfaces throughout the house, and does not need a sister who thinks it is fun to steal one and run away, with Zak in meltdown mode right behind her. And Wheezie would like a playmate for whom wrestling and tug-of-war are fun activities, not occasions for meltdowns.

As toddlers, their sensory issues are often incompatible. They fight a lot.  Our constant refereeing is exhausting, and not a lot of fun. Babysitters  at the end of a day look at us defeated, and say, “Well, they fought a lot.” It’s a miracle they come back.

But my hope is that as they get older, they will be good for each other. Maybe Wheezie will get Zak to try things out even when they seem scary, like skiing or swimming or fish tacos. And maybe Zak will get Wheezie to slow down and think before she steals mom’s car and drives to a party, or remind her what happened last time she used too much hot sauce. And on the occasions they DO team up to reprogram the DVR or color the sofa with markers, I am so relieved I have a hard time getting mad at them.

The Zak and Wheezie song playfully sings, “Although they’re different, as plain as you can see. Brother and sister, just as close as they can be.”   

Who knew a conjoined dragon would give me such hope? 

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