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

You too? I didn’t think so.

When a person with sensory issues tells you about a particular sensory eccentricity, remember that you’re not hearing the entire story because it’s complicated to paint the full picture of a scene wrought with sensory challenges. I pop bubble wrap before even unearthing the contents of a package also means because I am craving the tactile engagement and am desperately seeking this sort of input right now. I can’t stand the smell of raw meat also means because it is so foul to me that I find it painful and distracting to breathe in the scent, and it not only triggers other sensory sensitivities, it sends me into a shutdown. A sensory behavior never stands alone. It always emerges as part of a larger tapestry we call Living With a Differently Wired Brain.

I know you mean well. I know you would never tell a person mid-seizure that you’ve been there too, merely describing that one time strobe lights made you feel uncomfortable (unless you are actually prone to seizure activity). You’d never say to someone with Parkinson’s disease that your hands tremor, even if your hands sometimes do shake when you sip coffee (unless you actually have the disease). These are neurological disorders, too, as much as they vary. When you tell a person with sensory issues (whether SPD, autism or Asperger’s) that you experience the same things as they do, I believe you inadvertently negate and invalidate their experiences. Mine included.

So my neurotypical friends, what should you say instead of “me too”? It can be as simple as, “Thank you for sharing.” Speak words of support and encouragement about and to the sensory person. It’s hard to open up and be raw about something that’s had such a significant, personal impact on our lives, and yet, when we willingly discuss our sensory issues, we are making ourselves vulnerable. This is especially challenging for those of us who were diagnosed with our sensory issues later in life and spent many lonely decades feeling different and ashamed.

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