Friends and family may want to be supportive. But that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically get what your child with sensory processing issues is going through. Or what you’re going through, for that matter. Here are some suggestions for how to help friends and family better understand sensory processing issues.
Make the brain connection.
Kids with sensory processing issues aren’t trying to be difficult. The brains of people with sensory processing issues have trouble filtering, organizing and interpreting information taken in by the senses. This can cause extreme reactions to sensations like bright light, noises, smells, tastes and textures.
Explain that your child’s behavior isn’t a choice she is making. It’s a reaction to what her brain is telling her. Also share whether your child is oversensitive or undersensitive, and which of her senses are involved.
Keep it simple.
There’s no need to go into great detail when describing sensory processing issues to friends and family. The most important thing for them to know is what your child is feeling when she has extreme reactions.
Compare it to how most people feel when they touch a hot stove. To your child, an itchy sweater might feel just as intense and uncomfortable. The loud siren you find annoying might actually be painful for her. Analogies like these make what may seem like abstract ideas easier to grasp.
Explain the range of reactions.
When describing what your child is going through, be sure to mention that every child is different. Just like some of us are always cold or want to turn down the TV, kids have different sensitivities and reactions.
Your child may have issues with noise while another child is sensitive to light. Some kids have extreme reactions to all types of sensory information.
Also explain that some kids with sensory processing issues underreact. They might keep their hand on a hot stove because they don’t register pain the way other kids do. For them, safety can be a big issue.
Discuss what helps.
Family and friends may wonder what can help your child cope with her issues. Or they may ask why your child gets to do things differently from other kids. Once they know that a certain adjustment makes life less stressful for her, they can explain it to others.
For instance, your child’s cousins may think it’s unfair that she doesn’t have to wear dress shoes to a fancy family dinner when they do. Their parents can explain why your child needs to do things differently.
“Explain that your child’s behavior isn’t a choice. It’s a reaction to what her brain is telling her.”
One way to help kids understand is to compare your child’s needs to the needs of someone with a physical challenge. For example, if one kid breaks his leg, the whole class isn’t allowed to put their feet up on a chair. Fair doesn’t always mean equal. It means making sure people have what they need.
Sensory processing issues aren’t familiar to many people. So you may need to educate friends and family. The more they understand about your child’s issues, the more support they can offer you both. Knowing that people are accepting can be a huge boost to your child’s self-esteem.