It’s 8:45 am and our son Sam and I are at the Hannaford Supermarket. It's Sunday and we are trying to get in and out before the crowds of people. The lights are bright in the store and the smell of cooking muffins fills the air. Our son is wearing PJ pants because we compromised that he could wear “monkey pants” if he put on socks and sneakers and he keeps standing up and down in the kids truck grocery cart we were lucky to find. Sam puts his hand to his ear and says “Mom, do you hear that?” There is a very loud alarm going off in the produce section. Our son also looks like we haven’t combed his hair in a week and his nails are long because we are working on the feeling of cutting your nails. Our son has already taken a bath and had a feed through his gastronomy tube and Sam’s senses are on high alert.
I am wearing a t-shirt, jeans and my hair is up in a messy clip. I put on enough foundation makeup to try and hide the worry, illness and anxiousness that I feel. Getting through Hannaford feels tough. There are so many stares from people as our son screams out in excitement and joy. “Mom, look at the kids, AHHHHH!!!.” I rush through the store getting what we need as our son helps take things off the shelves and by the end of the trip is so overwhelmed that I offer to buy him a balloon to give him peace as we get through the checkout.
By that time our son is completely done with his overwhelmed senses, is yelling to go home and many people are giving us the hairy eyeball. You know, when that person has drilling eyes in the back of your head because they are sick of hearing your child express himself. I feel sad that Sam is having a hard time and wish that I could fix his pain. My heart is racing, I am very nervous as we cash out that Sam might knock a display over. I thank the cashier profusely, apologizing for the screaming and go to our car. I finally feel relief as I buckle our son into his car seat and on that day Sam decided to go into the car seat willingly. Some days there is a lot of crying that he would like to go back to the store even though he just expressed he wants to go home.
The above experience for us has to do with a term called Sensory Processing Disorder. I don’t like the word disorder either. So let’s call it Sensory Processing Difference instead. It’s where a person feels their senses, touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision in a different way than a typical person. I have learned that there are actually 8 to 21 senses in the body. Your own body perception is one sense that many people don’t even know about. Some people, like our son, feel the world so intensely that everything almost hurts or feels uncomfortable. These feelings are hard to express and may come out in screams, laughing, crying or frustration. The website https://www.twentyonesenses.org/ states that “sensory processing occurs when the brain receives and processes information.” Our son's brain is wired differently so the processing occurs sometimes in a confused format but also in a unique new way that we can learn from.
The point of this story is if you see families out in the general public with someone who looks overwhelmed, try to give them grace. Be compassionate. Don’t just insert yourself into their meltdown or their extremeness. Give a warm hello and be on your merry way. Or if they ask for help “say, sure what can I do.” We all have days where the world is too much. Where talking to one more person will put you over the edge. Or the beeping from an alarm is hurting your ears. As Sam’s Mom I always have his best interest at heart and I love Sam with all my being. I am trying to keep Sam safe, healthy and more importantly happy with good self esteem and in that I am working with a world that usually doesn’t like difference.
Beth Greeno, September 16, 2023
For more information access the websites : https://www.twentyonesenses.org/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086654/,https://autism.org...