WATERTOWN, S.D. (AP) — In its 1979 hit "Message in a Bottle," the rock group The Police sang about a lonely castaway who put a message in a bottle, threw it into the sea and a year later saw that a billion bottled replies had washed up on his shore.

Something similar is starting to happen to Ashley Holida.

A few years ago the Watertown mother learned her two children had sensory processing disorder. The website WebMD described SPD as "a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses."

WebMD said SPD is currently not recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis, but that makes no difference to Holida. She was relieved to know there were steps that would help her kids.

"It led to answers to a lot of unanswered questions," she told the Watertown Public Opinion. "Why noises are so scary for them, and why it's so hard for them to have their faces washed. Or why one of them is scared to death to eat food while the other will eat most anything."

She got some answers but was still feeling quite alone.

"When my children began therapy I started to meet other moms, dads and grandparents who were asking me the same questions. I wished there was a support group. I wished there was a way to meet other people with similar stories."

That's when, proverbially, Holida threw her bottle in the water. On Jan. 25 she launched the Facebook site Watertown Support Group for SPD, autism and learning disabilities. She credits her husband, Mackenzie Holida, for giving her the support and encouragement to start the project.

The interest has been growing. So far 80 families have joined her site. They're asking questions and assisting each other as best they can. One woman from Oklahoma has joined, and Ashley Holida expects the site to continue to grow.

"My goal is to reach people in the community and the surrounding area who have similar stories. We can share advice, encouragement and support. It's a place where people can connect, and these children can (plan to) get together, play with children like them and not feel alone," she said. "I've met seven families so far with hopes that in the springtime when the weather isn't a negative 40, we can get together and play. That will be a really awesome experience."

SPD is considered to be part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Ashley Holida originally thought perhaps her children had autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Doctors didn't agree but had no definite answers.

Her concerns grew after watching her son struggle through the first grade.

"He didn't suffer academically, but behaviorally he had a hard time, and that wore on his self-confidence. It was hard to watch," she said.

His second-grade teacher told Ashley Holida about SPD. Once she read about the disorder, she knew what was troubling her son. She said the staff at Big Stone Therapies in Watertown confirmed it.

Even at a very young age her daughter had the compulsion to eat non-food items. Ashley Holida thought perhaps it was an iron deficiency, but medical tests showed otherwise. Her need to put unusual items in her mouth or chew on her fingers until she hurt herself had Ashley Holida very worried.

Both children are now undergoing sensory integration therapy, which Ashley Holida said teaches them how to receive the input they need without overloading their senses.

"Our long-term goal for them is to be able to live life without having to deal with things that set them back," she said. "Just really to be able to live like everyone else; to not be so deeply impacted by the environment around them that's so scary to them."

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Information from: Watertown Public Opinion, http://www.thepublicopinion.com

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