Growing up, I was kind of a quirky kid.
When it was fashionable for kids to wear corduroy, plaid wool skirts, turtlenecks, and cable-knit tights, I was always unfashionable in worn jeans and a soft T-shirt.
Turtlenecks made me feel like I was strangling. Corduroy made an unbearable sound when I moved (didn’t anyone else hear that?). My tights were always bunched up, and the seam on the toes bothered me.
I swallowed green peas like pills because I couldn't bear the texture of chewed peas.
When everyone else put baby powder in their shoes to keep them smelling sweet, I couldn’t even bear to touch baby powder.
These quirks continued and I grew into a “sensitive” adult.
And then I had kids. When my middle child was born, he was what people called a fussy baby. Textures bothered him. Unexpected sounds upset him. As he grew into a toddler, he only ate four foods. Anything else he’d spit out or refuse.
Eventually, we came to learn he has sensory processing issues, as does his younger brother.
Learning and thinking differences run in families. So once I knew about my kids’ sensory processing issues, I started to think that maybe I was more than just a quirky kid and sensitive adult.
I still have issues with some textures, both clothing textures and food textures. I get overwhelmed in crowds, claustrophobic in elevators. In big cities, I often hit a point where I’m so overloaded that I need to call it a night when everyone else is heading out for drinks or dinner.
For years I tried to hide this from people. I tried to blend in and slide under the radar. At the same time, however, I was making for my sons and trying to educate other people about their sensory issues. The irony was not lost on me.
So one day, as I was doing a video chat for Understood about sensory processing issues, I said something I’d never said before.
“I have some sensory issues of my own,” I disclosed with a pause. “Having them makes it easier to understand what my kids are going through."
Right after I said this, my mind started racing. I was worried I might somehow lose credibility with my colleagues and the parents who were watching by talking about my issues out loud. But that didn’t happen.
My co-workers treated me the same. They don’t always understand why I need to bow out of a meeting or an event for a few minutes to regroup. But they respect me enough to give me space and time to gather myself when I need it.
More importantly, once I talked openly about issues, I realized I’d finally internalized my own message, the one I try so hard to impart to my sons.
I may be quirky, but there’s a reason. I have sensory processing issues. It’s not a big deal. I have to find ways to work around what challenges me and to learn to speak up when I’m overwhelmed. And I’m not hiding under the radar anymore. That’s a message I know my sons appreciate.
Read an expert’s advice on how sharing your struggles with kids can help them better manage learning and thinking differences. And discover a collection of strategies to help kids with sensory processing issues at home.
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About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.