Kids with Sensory Issues Experience the World Differently, But How?

We are pretty egocentric actually! We see the world form our own perspective and kind of assume that everyone around us sees it or experiences it similarly. Often it doesn’t even occur to us that there is any other way to experience a situation or interpret what is going on. This can give us a common bond when we are correct. However, it can get us into trouble when our experience is completely different than that of another. Talk about being on a different page! Sometimes we are reading a whole different book and have no idea!

Arguments, mistakes, confusion, frustration are all innocent results of forgetting to consider that there are lots of ways to experience a set of circumstances. And, these results can be avoided, or at least stopped before they become disastrous. We have all, and I am include myself here absolutely, urged our children to do a “fun” activity when they did not find it fun – beyond just the trepidation of doing something new, or reprimanded our children for not doing something so obviously inappropriate – why weren’t they paying attention…. Maybe they were – maybe they were seeing it differently or paying attention to something else. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying not to correct your kids. But, how effective we are in course correcting them is often in the tone and nonverbal we broadcast. Our frustration level and delivery change if we recognize that they might have experienced a situation much differently than we did.

For example, let’s take Disneyland – It is an amazing place, Right? Fantasy characters that talk to you and sign your book, cartoons come alive – big, fabulous colors and sounds, every product a kid could want – everywhere, rides of all sorts, fireworks, food, music…..Awesome! Yes, for some.

It also could be too loud, too many people brushing against you, too hot, dark with screaming coming from unknown places for unknown reasons, high, water splashing unexpectedly, sounds coming from who knows where an why, laser lights, long walks, jostling, foods that don’t agree with your stomach, too many choices, lots of ups and downs in rides and sights, not much time to wander and take in anything, unsafe feeling, an unseen pressure to enjoy (possibly due to the incredible investment spent to come to the magnificent place!)

Depending on who you are, either or both of these scenarios might describe Disneyland. A cranky child or an obstinate, uncooperative one might be experiencing so much overload that there is no fun in Disneyland, but they know there “should” be. So they might even know or think they are letting their parents down. (Note here, parents might or might not actually feel let down, but kids think they know what is going on with us parents too!)

On a smaller scale, the same dynamic might happen in a restaurant, a movie theater, a beach outing, a play date, the park, or the supermarket.

We really have no idea how our kids are experiencing the world, especially if they don’t tell us. We figure it out from their behavior and responses, if we are paying attention. Kids with sensory irregularities or sensitivities are even more of an unknown to those of us without sensory challenges. Just remembering that their world might be different than ours leaves the opportunity for them not to get lost in our perceptions and experiences and to be heard and seen more authentically.

So next time your child is cranky in a “fun” activity or unwilling to cooperate when there seems to be no apparent reason – one thing to check out is how are they experiencing the situation. What are the smells, sounds, tactile stimulations, sights, etc? Walk a block in their shoes – widen your perspective – it might save you some frustration, offer alternate solutions and model for them how to explore the world’s different possibilities.

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