Sensory Sensitivities – Bella's Experience
Our surroundings are full of sensory information, but the way we interpret this information varies from person to person. For those with sensory sensitivities, it means they are either over-sensitive or under-sensitive to sensory input.
They might take in too much or too little sensory information from the environment – and this can interfere with daily tasks, such as travelling, visiting the shops, and attending medical appointments.
When experiencing a heightened response to certain senses, it can make everyday living stressful, which is magnified even further when people show judgement and a lack of understanding for their circumstance.
Bella struggles with several sensitivities, including touch, taste and noise. She can only tolerate certain textures and tastes, and loud noises are intensely uncomfortable.
She said: “I don’t like the feeling of sand running through my fingers. I don’t like using slime or clay, I just don’t know why, it’s just the feeling of it. Sometimes I don’t like the taste of certain things.”
The sensation brings great discomfort, which usually leads to avoidant behaviours. Various tastes are overpowering and can result in a restricted diet and selective eating habits. It goes beyond a general dislike – in fact, the sensations can be painful and completely overwhelming, which isn’t always obvious to others. It affects people in different ways, sometimes Bella is more impacted by touch, and other times, taste is more of an issue.
Sound sensitivities are common with many autistic people, and Bella is an example of someone who doesn’t like loud, unexpected noises. The shrill sound of a siren or the revving of a motorbike engine is enough to make her jump or cover her ears to block the sound out.
Individuals may have their own strategies to manage these sensitivities, such as ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones. For Bella, music serves as a nice distraction to tune out noise when she finds herself in loud places.
Unfortunately, this is sometimes met with judgement from people who don’t understand what she is going through in that moment. It can be a frightening experience and a lack of empathy only makes it worse.
She said: “If people are curious, get to know us. Just come say hi, I mean we’re just like you. Everyone on the spectrum just wants one thing, to be accepted. We’re just like you, just add a bit of kindness to what you do, how you treat us, you’ll get a lot more than you expect back.”
By sharing information and knowledge on sensory sensitivities, people can grow their understanding and recognise how experiences might differ and impact individuals in various ways. Showing some kindness and support, and learning about one another, can help to foster acceptance.