10 Things to Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder

Unfortunately a person with Sensory Processing Disorder doesn’t just have to endure the frustrations and struggles that come with the way their brain is wired, but they also have to withstand many misinformed comments and phrases being thrown their way day to day. In fact, the truth is, they often struggle to find friends and have onlookers understand what they are going through. As a parent of a child with sensory processing disorder, I am often the recipient of the hurtful comments, however, I am not the only one. My son, and many others like him, often have to endure these things no one should ever say to a person with Sensory Processing Disorder.

Things to never say to a child with SPD

I strongly believe the the majority of comments that people make are out of ignorance. They either have never heard of sensory processing disorder, or have never had to love someone who struggles with every day tasks. I have to believe they aren’t made out of meanness or intent to hurt. In fact, before I knew my son had sensory processing disorder and anxiety, I probably said a few of these phrases to him out of frustration. No, wait… I still say some of these out of frustration, and then I remember that I am not helping situations at all.

Sensory Processing Disorder is a frustrating disorder because it is silent. What this means is that often times, you would never know anything is “wrong” or different about the person who is struggling. In fact, many people that are classified as “gifted” are also struggling with sensory issues daily, yet they may never have a disorder that impedes on their daily lives. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful what we say to them.

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder

It’s not that hard to {insert common activity}.

Yes. Yes, it is that hard. They are not doing refusing to do what ever it is you are waiting on them to do, just to annoy you. It might look like it, but I assure you… that is not their intentions.

Calm down.

This is easier said then done. In fact, if they could calm down on their own, they already would have. The truth is that they need help. They don’t have the skills yet to self-regulate, but they are learning!

What is wrong with you? You know better.

Yes, they SHOULD know better. This is especially true if the person you are talking to is older than a toddler. They should know to keep their hands to themselves. They should know to walk in a library. They should know to use a quiet voice in a restaurant. However, for whatever reason in this moment, they are unable to!

Why did you do that?

They have no clue. This one is a lost cause. Seriously. You might get a “it felt good” or “I wanted to”, but most likely, you are going to be met with a “I don’t know” and the shrugging of shoulders.

Quit being “bad”.

Oh, this one gets me. You see, I don’t like this one for ANY person or child! It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine. There are so many other phrases to say to a child misbehaving, rather than a phrase that is hurtful.

It’s not that big of a deal.

Not to you! However, to them it is the BIGGEST deal! To them, that wet shirt is like daggers to their skin. To them, that fan whirring sounds like a helicopter trying to land in their room. To them, its a HUGE DEAL!

Why don’t you just….{fill in the blank} 

Because they can’t. Because they are overstimulated. Because they aren’t processing the information. The why’s could go on and on.

Go away.

This one just makes me want to give them a big hug. You might think other’s don’t say it, but I see it on the playground, at the park, at birthday parties. Someone that struggles with sensory processing disorder can have annoying behaviors. However, they are not annoying. They have lots of great qualities. It takes a lot of patience to find them!

Quit being a baby.

Ugh… No, they are not being a baby, a sissy, a pansy, silly, or ridiculous. To someone with sensory processing disorder, their problems are very real to them and their frustrations are very real. Please don’t downplay what they are going through.

Don’t know anyone with sensory processing disorder? Why should you care?

Here’s the thing. You might know someone with a Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis. You might not even know anyone that knows they struggle with these things. However, I guarantee you that you will meet (and perhaps love) someone that struggles with sensory processing. You might see a child at the park constantly pushing on everyone. You might see a collegue that constantly taps their pen on their desk. You might even be married to someone who can’t stand to be touched. All of these behaviors are connected to the way our brain processes information. Maybe, just maybe, instead of making a comment that makes them feel “wrong” for what they are doing, we can try to re-phase our comments to help them learn to be successful.

THINGS TO NEVER SAY TO Someone with Sensory Processing Disorder

What to say to someone with Sensory Processing Disorder

I notice….

Maybe you would like to….

How can I help your body get what it needs?

This seems to be frustrating you, what if we try….

If you need ….., you can go here to do it.

I am trying to understand what you are frustrated about, can you show me?

I understand it is hard for you to…

Would you like to go to a quiet space to work?

Would you like me to give you some space?

I want to help. Is it okay if I ….

Honestly, just taking interest in their needs and in how their brain processes information will mean the world to them! Often times (especially in children) they have no idea why they are doing the things they are doing. They do not know how to “make a better choice” or “control their body”. It is hard for them every single day. It is our job to teach them strategies so they can be successful and feel good about their bodies and the way they process information.

The best way to do that is get informed. BEFORE my son was diagnosed, I had no idea what sensory processing disorder was, let alone how our 8 senses affect all of us every single day. It has been a very long journey to get where I am today, and even now, we struggle every day. In my newest best-selling book, Sensory Processing 101, I talk about sensory processing along with pediatric therapists. It is our goal to make sensory processing so well known, that there will be acceptance for behaviors that our out of the “norm.”

Stop Saying these things to parents of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder

For More Information on Sensory Processing, You Might Like:

What Does Sensory Processing Mean? {A Parent’s Perspective}
The Effects of Sensory Processing 
Ten Things to Never Say to Parents of a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

Grab your free Sensory Processing Starter Guide immediately by clicking the image below, and you’ll also get the first chapter of our book, Sensory Processing 101!

Sensory Processing Starter Guide Download

20 thoughts on “10 Things to Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder”

  1. Pingback: Things to never say… | 21andsensory

  2. Hope you don’t mind but I shared this great post with my followers on my blog! Keep up the awesome work!

    Emily, 21 with SPD.

    1. Lemon Lime Adventures

      I love that you didn’t share the whole image. Thank you so much! Also email me if you are ever interested in guest posting.

  3. Amarilis Aponte

    I was so taken buy this article because my grandson has this and it really brings things to light that people don’t really understand so i have forwarded to my entire family to make them aware.

    Thank you so much
    Amarilis

  4. Love the list of things you can say instead!

    I hate the phrase “What’s wrong with you” for any child. That one is big in my book.

    I have to admit I have used the calm down one with my own SPD kid — going to try harder on that one!

  5. Pingback: 10 Things to Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder | StillKicking

  6. Pingback: What Is Sensory Processing? - Lemon Lime Adventures

  7. Pingback: 10 Things to Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder | Healthmojo.org

  8. Stumbled upon this today and I have to say that it hit home.

    It’s so hard not to say these things sometimes; because they seem like they won’t hurt anything. But when my 4yo says something in response like: “I don’t know HOW to listen….I’m trying but I can’t” and he has a look of sadness in his eyes, it makes me think twice.

    Telling him to just get dressed, when the seams of his socks or the tag in his shirt feels like the most annoying thing ever….asking him to “Please just sit down while you eat dinner!” is like asking him to do
    the impossible.

    It’s hard. It’s a daily struggle that not everyone sees. Sometimes his SPD is very much a silent demon we battle but oftentimes it is an outburst, a scream, a chaotic storm of words and actions.

    I wish more people understood.

  9. Pingback: 10 Things to Never Say to a Person with Sensory Processing Disorder | Vitalsign

  10. Bodour Yousef

    Hi there,
    I came cross your post on pintrest and visited your page here. The article is very informing and I think my son has it. This is the first time I know about such a disorder!! I am from Kuwait and I have to search the terms in Arabic and seek help in here.
    THANKS A LOT for all the time you spend to help others
    Bodour Yousef

  11. Pingback: Changing Perspectives is HARD – savispecialties

  12. Dawn Rainbowstar

    Is it possible to print this two-sided list?

    1. Lemon Lime Adventures

      I can work on making that possible 🙂

  13. Delaney

    This is UH MAY ZING. Amazeballs. Whatever you want to call it. We live with my parents right now (hurry up, construction crews on our house!!!!!!) and they do NOT understand my son. I have printed off this article and the chart and I’m posting it where we can ALL reference it and use it to help my son. He was diagnosed as ADHD/ODD/sensory seeking, but the school and we are thinking there is more to it. He scored very high for ASD, so the school is going to do some additional testing to see. We’ve tried to explain things, to my dad especially, but he’s old school and doesn’t think that ASD and other disorders have much merit. GRR. THANK YOU for this.

    1. Just_Chris

      Does anyone know of an article that helps translate modern diagnosis into old school speak? There are fantastic grandparents around who are great with kids but I sometimes feel we just speak another language. yes there are those who think the child is just ‘naughty’ and needs to be beaten with a blunt object to be corrected but they are getting pretty rare these days. I geuss what I am after is the same list above but for explaining the child’s behaviour. Something like replace “he has spd that’s why the tag in his clothes bothers him” with “his skin is really sensitive to light touch, tickling hurts”.

      I’m not sure if I’m making sense, I just feel that we, the parents of a child really need to understand all the terms, what they mean and what causes them but we also we need a grab bag of simple non-confronting terms that help communicate the important information to someone who is clueless and who assumes medical terms mean there is something wrong with the child – Yes mum I used a medical term to describe your beautiful grandson, yes mum I know there is nothing wrong with him.

  14. Shannon Wright

    I think i commented already, but just in case I’ll do it again. Thus really helped. I just turned 14 with SPD. I really want everyone to understand me! I screenshot a lot of these, so I can show it to my parents. They understand my struggles SOME, but definitely not to a decent point. I think I’ve had it since very early elementary school. I’m going to high school (9th grade), and I have no idea what I’m gonna do compared to how middle school went. As i read through this, I imagine people saying this to me,…and it hurts. Yet when I got to the part with the alternative phrases, I felt so much better.
    Anyway I’m just really glad you made this! I’m also glad that people like you are around you seem really nice and compasdionate, and I love that. I wish the BEST for your kid!!! ☺??

  15. Chrissy

    VERY WELL SAID!!! I believe that we need to spread the word for our sensory children. I am sharing this with his teachers and extended family that we will be visiting for the holidays. (As you know, the holidays and family gatherings are some of the biggest challenges for sensory processing disorder) I am happy to have some clear cut verbiage to share and help them understand what my son is going through on a daily basis.
    Keep up the good work and thank you!!!

  16. Melanie Rappoli

    I just want to say that I am so thankful for people like you that bring awareness to the public who aren’t aware of these disorders. I realized that my son was different around the age of 4. There were so many things that came to light at this age such as tags, tightness of shoes, the way his clothes fit, chewing on his shirt..etc.. etc.. I have struggled myself with understanding and helping him to get through these challenges on a daily basis. He has been going to occupational therapy for about 2 years now, and although it helps everyday we have our challenges.
    I have said some of the phrases that we shouldn’t say and will never say them again, or at least I will try my hardest to rephrase. This article literally had me in tears, nodding my head in agreement then crying again. I’m buying your book because this truly touched me.

    Thank you for your kindness and spreading awareness for those with disabilities.
    Sincerely,
    Melanie

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