On the responses to our social media posts in 2021, people identified a range of areas which they feel neurotypical people and business owners often misunderstand about sensory processing difficulties. These were grouped into two main themes:
- The variability of sensory processing difficulties
- The negative impact of a challenging sensory environment
People also highlighted how many neurotypical people lack an understanding of sensory processing difficulties and autism, and how this means someone might be labelled as ‘attention seeking’ or ‘fussy’.
People explained that the response someone can have to an environment or a specific sensory input can vary over time. This means that one day someone might be able to cope with a specific input or location while at other times it can be overwhelming (and this can change even during the day). On the social media posts, people also highlighted how every autistic person is unique. Therefore, what one person might enjoy might be something another person finds more challenging to cope with.
“They [neurotypical people] think I actually have the ability to ignore things like smells and noises. And they underestimate how PAINFUL it is!”Social Media Post
Over 86% of people who responded reported that they feel neurotypical people underestimate the impact of a negative sensory environment on an autistic person. Negative sensory inputs are not just ‘annoying’ but can be truly painful to experience.
People identified that neurotypical people do not appear to understand how much pain can be involved in tolerating inputs such as sounds or physical touch. They reported that people often assume they are exaggerating and assume that they can ignore or cope with difficult inputs in the way that they can.
On our social media posts, people highlighted that as well as pain, managing challenging sensory environments can lead to other physical responses. Some people reported that they can find it difficult to speak which others reported feeling sick. One person identified the negative consequences can be long lasting, reporting that even if they can cope in the short term, later it’s a ‘buildup of distress that makes me erupt later in my lonesome’.
For someone who does not experience strong physical responses to a sensory environment, it can be difficult to imagine the impact it might have on someone with sensory processing difficulties and/or autism. These results show why it is important to talk to autistic people about their perspectives and for people to learn more about how sensory processing difficulties can impact on someone’s experience of public places.
Ethics Approval Reference: R74960/RE001