Sensory Smart News:
Tip of the Week: Teach your child how to handle insensitive remarks from people who don't understand or respect differences.
Some kids with SPD also have problems with social skills and reading social cues while other kids with sensory processing disorder do not. However, at some point, all children with sensory processing issues have to deal with meeting their own sensory needs in a way that sets them apart from the crowd. Parents, educators, therapists, and other responsible adults can teach them sensory smarts so that they meet their sensory needs in a socially acceptable way. Even so, there will be times when someone who doesn't understand or respect differences will make a harsh, cruel, or disrespectful comment. Model an appropriate response and you will help your child learn that just because people are insensitive doesn't mean he has to feel ashamed, guilty, or bad about himself, or conform to others' unfair expectations.
There are several ways you and your child can respond to such remarks.
Ignore them. This response teaches a child that we do not let others determine our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; rather, we take responsibility for ourselves. If a stranger doesn't understand why your child does not eat birthday cake if it contains gluten, or is the one kid not wearing dressy clothes at a wedding, that's her problem, not yours. If your child catches the comment, you might whisper to her "Ignore that" and discuss with her later what happened and why you reacted as you did.
Make it a teachable moment. You can educate your child and perhaps the commenter as well. You might say to the commenter, "Yes, most kids love birthday cake but Cassidy has a medical issue and this is a food she cannot digest, even if she has just one bite." If the commenter persists, you can say, "I'm curious. Why is this so important to you?" Chances are, the person will back off once he is made mindful of what he's doing. Do not feel you have to give a lengthy explanation or tell the person your child's diagnosis if that doesn't seem appropriate. The more close you and your child are to the commenter, the more likely it is that you will want to give some explanation now or later. Grandma needs to know more about why her granddaughter can't handle the sensory challenge of a backyard full of family members talking, grilling, and moving about and why she can't wear that scratchy t-shirt that was a gift. The stranger on the street doesn't need to know that your child has autism, auditory processing disorder, ADHD, or the like.
Pull rank. You are the parent who sought out therapy and specialists, filled out forms, and read books on your child's condition, and you are his best advocate. Don't be afraid to tell an insensitive friend, neighbor, or relative, "Actually, his occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist both said that forcing him to eat foods and turning mealtimes into battlegrounds would be counterproductive so we are working on his eating issues under their direction. Would you like to learn more? I could explain or even have them talk to you." (The latter is more appropriate if it is a family member or part-time caretaker). You might be surprised by who responds with, "Gee, I had no idea. That's great that you are working so hard to help him. I really admire you."
Make a clever quip. As much as we would all like to be patient and remain untouched by others' insensitivity, sometimes it feels good to let loose with a clever quip such as,"Emmy has sensory issues that make it difficult for her to tolerate certain challenging situations and people." Everyone is different, so if this response does not feel right to you, don't use it.
Usually, it isn't until after these situations occur that we think to ourselves, "Ugh, I should've said---" Why not take some time and decide what response would make you feel the most empowered when someone offers a rude or insensitive comment? What response would send your child the best possible message about how to interact with people who are just ignorant versus people who are ignorant and harshly judgmental? While there is no reason to obsess over worst-case scenarios, knowing how you will handle these types of comments gives you more courage to take social risks and bring your child to an event he might have trouble handling.