I’m sensory sensitive. Not many people are aware that this issue exists nor what that means for the person affected despite the large impact it has. If you have a friend or loved one who experiences sensory sensitivity, it is absolutely crucial for you to understand what that means for them and for the interactions you will have with them.
Sensory sensitivity refers to how sensitive a person is to sensory inputs such as sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. The average person is able to handle a fairly large amount of sensory input and be fine; going to the mall isn’t a problem for them despite the loud sounds, bright lights, strong smells, and frequent bumping into other people.
Sensory sensitive people however have a harder time processing all of these sensory inputs and may get overwhelmed or have a meltdown. Meltdowns are a person’s reaction to being over stimulated by sensory inputs, and these meltdowns can vary in regard to how the person reacts to the stimuli. Some people will cry uncontrollably, while other people may react aggressively. In children, it’s common to misinterpret these meltdowns as simple temper tantrums. Everyone has seen a child thrashing and screaming at their parent(s) at the supermarket before, so many people see meltdowns as just that. This can be a dangerous assumption to make considering the differences of causes between these two actions. Attempting to treat a meltdown the same as you would a temper tantrum can be very harmful. Tantrums often occur because a child is upset for an emotional reason whereas meltdowns are linked to a physical cause: over-stimulation.
Sensory processing disorders are frequently linked to the autism spectrum, and it is true that sensory sensitivities are a symptom of autism-spectrum disorders. Because of this, sensory processing issues are most commonly found in young boys, though it can affect people of any age and gender. But keep in mind that sensory processing disorder is also its own stand-alone disorder, therefore not everyone you meet who is sensory sensitive is also autistic.
It is important to understand that people with sensory processing disorders may not be able to do all the things that those who do not suffer with it can. Social outings to the mall, crowded parks, concerts, and other spaces with a lot of people and/or stimuli are not usually a fun sounding ideas to those of us who suffer from this. In fact, these outings can be potentially harmful to us. If a friend or loved one has a sensory sensitivity, you have to be patient with them and be willing to plan other events to spend time with them in a way that will be both comfortable and fun for all parties involved. Though, as with suggestions relating to any disorder, these are not the one true way all sensory sensitive people are. Some people’s sensitivity levels vary from day to day or even hour to hour. Some of us (myself included) love to attend concerts of bands we really enjoy. The mall doesn’t always sound like a death trap. Getting out into nature can be a good escape, even if surrounded by other people sometimes. To be supportive, just be sure to communicate with your friend or loved one to see what their preferences are and what sensory inputs they can handle versus what they can’t. Just the little gesture of asking can go a long way.