We all have sensory sensitivity, it’s just to what extent we have it. Think about how many kinds of sheets there are in the store. The thread counts can be very small, all the way up to very large. Why? Because when you put your hand on the sheets, it may be more rough to you then it is to the guy down the aisle. Some blankets feel sleek and cozy to one person while another person may feel too warm or itchy from it. People with Autism, happen to feel things as we do, but to a higher extreme.
Some people are capable of taking their shoes off and walking along a gravel road, while other people can feel the rocks right through the bottom of their shoes and feel uncomfortable. Some people can ride in the backseat of a car, while reading a book, and feel perfectly fine. Other people have to have their eyes forward with the window down and the wind blowing on their face (so that they don’t puke). Many people can go to a concert and feel moved by the music, while other people prefer to listen to it quietly at home. One person can down an entire plate of fudge without missing a beat, while the people around them are suffering from a tiny cube of it. We all have sensory sensitivities, we just don’t react the way that people with Autism do. Because while you may have motion sickness from the car ride; a person with Autism is suffering from the motion sickness, the sound of the wind, the discomfort of the car seat, the smell of the gas guzzling car ahead of yours, the sight of the trees passing by, the emotions of the people in the car, and the overwhelming gurgle of their stomach.
People with Autism (especially children) are incapable of shielding themselves from all of the things that cause them sensory harm. Whereas we prepare for a walk on a gravel road by putting shoes on, the person that can feel the rocks through their shoes has little choice but to press on. There are so many things that can cause sensory discomfort in this world, and some things are impossible to change or avoid. Remember the last time you looked at the sun on accident? Imagine that this is how a person with Autism feels every time they go to the store. Have you ever been inside a cafeteria during lunch and tried to find one student out of the crowd, but were unable because of the noise and confusion? This is how it feels for a person with Autism to be at the mall.
We get overwhelmed by things all of the time and make adjustments so that we don’t experience them again, or so that we are prepared for it. Children with Autism can’t prepare themselves for how over-stimulating something is going to be (especially the little ones). We, as their parents, have to do the preparation for them. Since every child is different, there is no handbook on how to do this. But if you watch your child and learn their cues, see where the discomfort is coming from, then you can help make a difference. If you notice your child chewing fiercely on their hand before a mealtime; provide a stress stick to comfort them. You can purchase them on Amazon and probably other places as well. If your child is overwhelmed by the noises of the stores, see if they will wear a headset, or go during a less crowded part of the day. If you know your child gets overwhelmed by all of the walking, try figuring out the shortest path, or make frequent stops.
Tryto see things from their point of view, in other words; become Autistic with them. Try to put on the piece of clothing first and see where it may rub, itch or scratch. At home, put yourself in the mall and imagine everything that your senses will pick up while you are there; the bustling of people, the smells of the food court, the closeness of the clothing aisles, the hard floor or soft carpet under foot, the surprise noises of toy stores or Santa visiting. Feel, smell, see, and hear all of these things as if they were amplified. How would you tone down the screaming of the crowd? How would you slow down the racing of pedestrians? How could you make it feel more open and inviting? Sometimes, there is no way to improve it completely. Sometimes the only way to make it through is to rush as quickly as you can because you know you have to get the chore done. And you know what? That’s ok. It’s understandable that you can’t make everything comfortable. You can’t change the whole world around you. They will have to learn to live in it as they get older. But knowing what may cause triggers and meltdowns from sensory overload, can help make the trips better. Bring their favorite book for them to read before they get overwhelmed. Try holding their hand and making a squeezing game when they are getting worn out. Stop and take a break in a quiet area, like near the restrooms, to unwind.
The point is; everyone has sensory sensitivity, you usually just don’t share it with people. Children with Autism try and share with people how things are overwhelming, they just have difficulty putting it into words (especially since some are none verbal communicators). Try screaming and flapping your hands the next time that you get a paper cut. I guarantee that someone will rush to your aid quickly to find out what is wrong. If a child with Autism does it? People give dirty looks or ignore them. It’s the same thing; a sensory overload. But people see them as having tantrums or acting like spoiled brats, or as being mentally unstable. It isn’t fair, this world we live in. The next time that you see a child flapping their hands or screaming in the store, consider this; maybe they are so overwhelmed with everything around them that they feel as if there is no where to run to. Consider that their parents are probably exhausted and have no idea how to help their child feel better. Consider that the parent probably can’t even hug the child to comfort him/her because human contact is too over stimulating for them. So please don’t stare, please don’t whisper or point, please don’t glare or make accusations about them. Offer aid or kind words; it will probably be the first time it has ever happened to that parent.