The One Thing You Should Never Say to Someone With Sensory Issues

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned living with a lesser-known, hidden neurological sensory disorder for 32 years (and advocating on behalf of others with this disorder for five, ever since I was diagnosed in 2010), it’s that many people ultimately mean well when they discuss your condition, even when their commentary suggests otherwise.

I often repeat this statement over and over like an ancient yogic mantra when I post about the quirky and especially challenging ins-and-outs of life with sensory processing disorder (SPD) and wait for the engaging discussion to begin because there’s one thing that stops me in my tracks and takes me back. It doesn’t always happen when I blog or share tidbits of my sensory life. It’s the epitome of “meaning well,” funnily enough, the tethering together of experiences and emotions; the holding of hands across the electronic divide, and I know it’s bound to happen eventually, as much as it rubs me the wrong way every single time.

It’s when someone with typical neurology reads about my sensory challenges and replies: “Me too.”

Let me take a step back and qualify this by saying that we’re all sensory beings. Think of the agitated grandma who shakes her cane at street youths, telling them to keep the noise down. Think of the beach-goer who shields his eyes from the sun until he can push his Ray-Bans onto the bridge of his nose. Think of the little girl who refuses to eat her broccoli because it tastes yucky. As human beings, every single one of us is perpetually engaged with our senses.

Our world is one based on sensation and perception, and most of us can move through it unscathed. We have our sensory preferences and dislikes, sure. Some of us live for the thump of the speakers at live concerts. Others wrap themselves in a cashmere scarf and curl up under a fluffy comforter. Many avoid crowds.

The difference, though, is that for those of us with sensory issues, our “penchant” for cashmere or “desire” for a loud baseline or “dislike” of crowds isn’t merely a preference that can be turned on and off at will. We are wired so differently than our prime directive becomes something like rubbing your fingers across all soft things all the time in all places regardless of societal norms or social graces OR press your body against the speaker to feel every single pulse and ignore the bouncer who wants to toss you out of the concert venue OR stay the hell away from the undulating crowd and cover your ears and shut your eyes and wish upon all available stars in the sky to be anywhere but here. Hence “disorder.” Hence “differences.” Hence “disability.” Hence “condition.”

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