Being mindful of others’ sensory sensitivity

By Tharina Annandale

I must say… I have been through three very interesting  months this year! I must definitely be one of the lucky ones! I have a sensory sensitive child. He is currently 13 years old and recently started high school. Let’s just say that it has been a journey to get him to this place in his life. He (and of course his mother – me!) has been confronted with different situations in his life where people don’t understand him…I am sure that if you are reading this and have a sensory sensitive child you can most certainly relate!

In pre-primary he had severe meltdowns due to the tactile stimulation that he was confronted with all the time (carpet, friends touching him, etc.) and when he moved to primary school level he sat under the table once because he couldn’t cope with the noise levels of the class, and of course the teacher phoned me and said that I should test him for autism. Yes! There have been numerous days in my life where I am truly thankful for having the expertise and professional background where I could understand his tactile defensiveness and sensory sensitive profile.

This year “we” attempted high school and what a pleasant surprise! For the first time in his life someone understood him (apart from his family)! One morning, during their test week, his class teacher contacted me and asked me if I did not want to apply for extra time so that my child can finish his test papers, because he knows all the answers but really struggles to finish in time. The teacher even reported that he could see that my child was struggling with all the extra noises in the classroom during testing. The teacher was also concerned about my child’s anxiety levels. Yes, what a revelation!

Finally, someone understood and could see that the noise levels in the classroom had a severe impact on my child and even affected his anxiety levels. For the first time in years, I felt that my child was in the right place and that he was understood. I have to tell you about my second revelation… I took my child to a child psychologist (a very well-known psychologist who specialises in educational needs) and the psychologist immediately identified that my child was sensory sensitive and that he was struggling with extra noises and this affected his anxiety levels! He completed a report for the school. For a mother and an occupational therapist, qualified in Ayres Sensory Integration®, this was like heaven! Finally, people who attempted to understand!

If you know someone with a Sensory Processing Disorder or someone with a sensory sensitive profile, please be on the lookout for symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. These people perceive the world on a more “sensitive” level and all of us should be more mindful and considerate toward signs of sensory sensitivity and how they impact people in everyday life. People who are sensory sensitive get tired easily and this can present as an emotional breakdown. If we are not considerate and aware of these signs, we might just increase someone else’s anxiety levels and this could have pathological results.

Today, I can say that I am truly grateful for people that attempt to understand the world of the sensory sensitive person! Cheers to the professionals in the school systems and health systems who are educated and mindful of the more sensory sensitive people in society!