If you have ever interacted in a social situation you understand that there are certain rules about what you say and what you don’t say. Most observe the social cues that dictate what is appropriate and what isn’t, but what if you were distracted? What if you had a loud rock band blaring into your ears, while a baby cries in your arms, while someone pokes you in the ribs and a light is flashing in your eyes?
Would you perceive those social cues? Would you understand what people are saying?
Or let me put it another way. What if you were in a foreign country. You understand the language a little, but not enough to understand everything people are saying. Would you have a hard time knowing when to speak and when not to speak? Would you have a hard time staying on the same topic or know what to say?
That is what it is like for many who have Sensory Processing Disorder. Basically, communication is not our forte.
A while back, I had my whole family over to our smallish apartment (which amounts to about 11 people, two of those were children). We had gathered to celebrate three birthday’s that are very close together, one of those birthday’s was mine.
So one would think I would be ok interacting with these people, right? Wrong!
The children were very fidgety that evening, the amount of work and interacting I had done all that day was finally taking it’s toll, and my SPD was in overload!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love interacting with people, but because my senses were shouting, “danger Will Robinson…” I couldn’t focus on anything.
It was into all this that a gift to my little nephew appeared.
It was a small stuffed animal of the caterpillar from that famous book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My overwhelmed brain suddenly registered that this stuffed animal was very cool and that I wanted one. So I started asking my cousin, who had given the gift to my nephew, dozens of questions, just seconds after the gift had appeared. Among the many I asked, one of them was, “How much did it cost you?”.
Oops! Did I really say that?
Suddenly my cousin got really quiet and pushed the conversation to the side.
What did I do? My brain was still in overload, and clearly didn’t see the mistake. Then suddenly, through the haze of my senses, it came to me.
How could I be so stupid to say something like that?! To ask how much a gift cost someone right in front of the gift receiver and everyone else in the room.
Where’s the undo button?
As much as you wish you could undo what you did… you can’t. All you can do is try to mend the damage.
I apologized to my cousin that evening and luckily she understood, but that doesn’t change the reality that SPD effects my social interactions.
Many people with SPD appear to be shy or introverted to the people around them. But if you asked them, they would probably tell you that they often don’t understand what is going on.
It’s not because they are not smart, but because they are unable to process what is being said or what is going on.
This can be because they are overwhelmed by the world around them and/or because their brains literally don’t understand the sensory information it is receiving.
So when you interact with someone with SPD, keep all this in mind. Maybe they don’t understand what is going on or don’t see social cues that you see.
Instead of judging them, help them. Instead of drawing away from them, try to understand them!
And to those who have SPD, take heart! I understand how it feels to say something or do something that you regret, or be unable to understand social cues.
Social interactions are confusing and discouraging at times, but you are not alone in this, and there are people out there that want to interact with you! Just be the best you that you can be!