Some things should be common sense. So it would seem. However, when your child has struggles with a disorder that causes frustrating behaviors, sometimes you get some strange looks, and you definitely get some off-beat comments. Today, I am sharing the top 10 things you should never say to parents of a child with sensory processing disorder.
I want to start by saying that before I knew about sensory processing disorder, I probably said some of these things too. In fact, I want to admit that there are times I still think them in my head when I am self-doubting everything we are doing to help our son. So, that’s the real reason for this plea.
You see, parents of a child with sensory processing disorder are fragile. We carry a lot of guilt and we are constantly wondering if it is our parenting skills our our child’s ability (or inability) to process information. These phrases just cut us down and add to that guilt. They make our skin crawl and they make us want to scream.
Rest assured, though… those screams are screams crying for acceptance not screams of hate. In fact, we are screaming because we want so badly to explain what our children need to strangers like you and our loved ones, but it’s just so hard.
Top 10 Things to Never Say to Parents of a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
“It’s just a phase.” | No, no it is not just a phase. A phase is liking a red shirt over a blue shirt. A phase is not screaming because your socks don’t feel good.
“He’ll grow out of it.” | He will grow. He will change. It is our goal to help him learn how to self-regulate, but he can’t “grow out of it” on his own.
“All kids do that.” | You are right. All kids have sensory processing preferences. However, it doesn’t keep all kids from going to the grocery store, a public bathroom, or a birthday party, does it?
“She just needs more discipline.” | Oh, believe me… we have tried all kinds of discipline. In fact, we still parent her, we’ve just learned what is sensory related and what is her pushing buttons.
“Back in my day, that was called “being a kid”. | Back in your day, we didn’t know as much as we know now about the human brain and sensory processing.
“She looks so normal.” | She is normal. Thank you. However, her brain works differently than her peers.
“Your kid doesn’t look autistic.” | Let’s not even go there.
“He knows exactly what he is doing.” | Maybe. Most likely not. Either way, we are working on teaching him socially acceptable ways to manage his reactions.
“He just needs to run off some energy.” | Have you seen our house? We have a swing, a crash pad, a trampoline, a climbing wall, a sit and spin, sensory bins, and ropes… I am not sure “getting his energy out” is all that is needed.
“If he was my kid…. “| But, he is not. Please don’t tell me I should spank him, ground him, reprimand him when you don’t know what we’ve been through.
This is just the tip of the iceberg to the things that I hear on a daily basis. Here’s the thing. I know that the people saying these things to me just don’t know any better. They have never had to love a child with sensory struggles (or they didn’t know that was what they were dealing with). They have never had to endure the pain of trying absolutely every parenting strategy only to be left with frustrations. They have never had to watch their child sit in agony over a pair of socks.
I could end this here and be done. Say my peace and feel like I have done my part. However, I don’t think that is enough. I want to help educate. I want to help spread awareness until there is acceptance. So, I have gathered 10 things you can say instead if you ever meet a parent with a child with sensory processing disorder. THEY WILL THANK YOU .
Helpful Things to Say to the Parents of a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
She seems to be struggling with something…
How does that affect her day to day?
I know you’re a good parent.
We should get coffee sometime so I can learn more.
How can I support you?
Now that I know, what can I do to connect with him?
You’re doing a great job!
I’m here for you.
I believe You.
That last one. “I’m here for you. I believe in you. ” Those words are so powerful and mean so much, especially to a parent who feels judged, worn down, and alone. So the next time you meet a parent of a child with sensory processing disorder, stop before you respond with “if he was my kid…” and replace it with “I’m here for you. I believe in you.”
“Luckily no one ever says these things to my child. They just say them to me,” says a parent from our sensory support group. Unfortunately, that is not the case as the children start to get older. Here are 10 phrases to stop saying to someone with Sensory Processing Disorder.
For More Information on Sensory Processing Disorder You Might Like
What does sensory processing REALLY look like?
Decoding Every Day Kid Behaviors
Myths about Sensory Processing
44 thoughts on “10 Things to Never Say to Parents of a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder”
“I know you’re a good parent. You’re doing a great job!” and “Your son/daughter is a wonderful child! I know that. We all have difficult moments and I know that this moment doesn’t define who your child is.”
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Another thing one shouldn’t say to a parent is “Why is he/she getting worse? What are you doing differently?” My son’s principal asked me this accusingly. If I knew, don’t you think I’d fix it? I don’t want him to struggle. I don’t want the teacher to struggle with him. I don’t want to be accused of something no one can fix.
For goodness sake, turn your child’s socks inside-out already! It is usually not the sock, per se, but the ridge that runs along the toe that causes all of those tears. An inside-out sock will stop the tears 9 times out of 10. And parents won’t change what they say to you – in most cases they are already trying to soothe you with what they are saying. Maybe as a parent, you can recognize that someone saying your child is “just being a kid” IS saying you’re doing a good job and that they will be there for you. I don’t see how using “therapy talk” at you is anything but condescending – but that’s just me. A mom. Who raised 2 children with sensory processing difficulties. Hang in there; your child will be just swell as a grown up. You’ll just have worked harder than most to get them there.
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Don’t ever call children who are having a hard time a “brat”. They are not just “throwing a fit” to get something that they want. I like to imagine how that child feels on the inside when they are acting out or having a meltdown. Before you pass judgement on the parent or the child, try to imagine how that child is feeling on the inside.
Love and patience!!!!!
I will never forget a seminal moment years ago while sitting with a friend as our children played nearby. My 3 year old had one of his typical meltdowns (which could last anywhere from ten minutes to a full agonizing hour). About 20 minutes into the meltdown my friend turned to me and said “If he was my kid I would kill myself.” It was a real low point for me in my parenting career.
Fast forward 16 years and several hundred meltdowns and things have improved immeasurably. Between educating myself, my son, my family and identifying some triggers, such as food allergies, we have a well functioning young man on our hands. I can’t say there aren’t moments…but overall the picture is of a well adjusted young adult whose family finds joy in spending time with him.
I also want to say that Carol Kranowitz’s book “The Out of Sync Child” was a real life saver when we didn’t know what we were facing. If you haven’t read it yet make it a priority. It helped us feel so much less alone in our quest to figure out what we needed to do alleviate our son’s distress and our anxiety.
Wishing you much success!
Your magnificent love and patient perseverance will be rewarded.
“She looks so normal.” | She is normal. Thank you. However, her brain works differently than her peers.
Nope. If her brain works “differently,” she is, by definition, not normal. You are a bad writer.
I am sorry you feel that way.
Too many folks get hung up on how society defines normal. I am a special education teacher and the one area that I have done a lot of research in is Sensory Processing Disorder. These individuals either have heightened senses or dulled senses. I find that the majority leans toward heightened senses. In my research, I wonder whether these individuals are experiencing a well developed area in the brain, rather than what some might view as “abnormal”. Understanding that a lot of the anxiety felt by these children is the discomfort and pain experienced from their hyper senses. Two people speaking to each other 2 feet away can be heard as “yelling” to one another by someone with hyper senses. Sunshine can seem blinding at times. BUT, they are normal in the sense that the can function professionally, and be educated to any degree just like anybody else. It is just that the volume on their senses is turned up. It takes a very strong individual to deal with the realities of life…plus try to tune out everyday nuisances. Thank you for your blog! The average person does not understand this issue. What disturbes me as a teacher, is how many children have gone through school without an explanation to their discomfort.
Really?? Normal is tall and short, loud and quiet, those who are deaf and those who are bothered by sounds, those of us who Cannot Have Tags in our clothes and must wear our socks inside out or no socks at all… I suffer from sensory issues myself and am math challenged and am a musician and can type really fast but I don’t like to go in Big Box Stores or get on the freeway. My feet hate shoes. My brain works differently but I AM NORMAL. The child that you see throwing himself on the floor and pounding his head faces challenges you could never imagine. Who judges “normal”? And mean and critical shouldn’t be normal.
Who are you to say what normal is? There is much variation in how people’s brains work. There are also many different types of mild disabilities which do not make children abnormal. I don’t think there is any true “normal” any more. However, you, who are meanly criticizing a parent who is trying to share her experiences in hopes that they may help someone, are hopefully not it.
What is Normal ???
Love how you come in there at the end with suggestions!
Having heard just about all the “don’ts” …I’m ready for the “do” category 😉
Thanks and love,
Why did you delete my comment? Can you please explain how a child is “normal” if, in the same sentence, you admit that the same child’s brain works differently than everyone else’s? Is that, by definition, abnormal?
You make some good points, but being over-defensive and PC hurts your credibility here. Words mean what they mean, and you can’t change the definition of normal. Kids don’t need to be normal to be great!
I did not delete your comment. You can see it below. Although you came to my blog and my site and called me a “bad writer” I still published it. Thank you for your thoughts. I can’t please everyone, can I ?
(I tried to comment earlier but I think it got lost.)
Having experienced just about all of the “don’ts,” I’m grateful and Ready for the “dos.”
Thanks and love,
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Is there a way to get this article on email so I can forward it to some of Sean’s teachers?
Absolutely, you can send them the link to the post.
My son has a sensory processing disorder. He also has dyslexia. It is very challenge n people have no kind words to say just negative comments, so thank you
Best thing ever said to me: “you are doing a good job Mom” said with a pat on my arm by an elderly couple in the grocery store during a melt down. I was in tears after.
The worst one, I think, is “Your kid just needs a good smack on the behind, that’ll slap the sense into him/her!” (yes, I got that for both of my kids). I wanted to say “Can I just smack you until you pass out and stop talking?”, but I was too busy with my kids.
I don’t understand the comment on autism. Why other than them saying she doesn’t “look” autistic is that offensive? You do realize many children with autism also suffer with sensory processing disorder?
My grandson is autistic and has some SPD. We go through the same trials and tribulations of what you speak. Melt downs in public. People staring, judging, recommending things they know nothing about, Opinionated friends and family that think they mean well but know nothing.
Maybe you need to reconsider that one.
Are you serious? I talk about children with autism having Sensory Processing Disorder and you DELETE my comment! SHAME on you!
I haven’t deleted any comments. All comments have to be approved first.
Whilst I find all you wrote great, the one problem I see with it is that one may not know the child has SPD. If you don’t know then you fall into the category of believing the child should be like all other children.
As the father of 8 children and 4 grandchildren (so far), not to mention 19 nephews and nieces, I know full well that many children behave exactly as you have described who do not have SPD. And I admit sometimes it is down to how the parent (myself included) is dealing with them and the situation.
So I would just stop taking offence at comments for others – they may not know there is any long term problem.
Over tiredness, illness coming on, sibling swabbles and trying to get their own way all, together with many other ways, can cause children to behave this way.
You hit the nail on the head! Children behave this way with or without a diagnosis, right? The problem with these statements is that they do not build up the child. In fact, they tear them down and don’t allow them to find their stride in a positive way. Thank you for your thoughts. I still stand by my post!
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My favorite is when comments are made over food. Like, “Well, you obviously aren’t immigrants or your child would eat whatever you served.” (WTF?) First, there are plenty of immigrants who aren’t starving. Second, if my child was starving I’d only give a 50/50 chance the child would actually eat anything from a kids’ menu, never mind adult fare. Third, since when is parenting defined as getting your child to behave in the same manner as a starving person?
My fave was when somebody insisted we were parenting wrong even after learning that the child wouldn’t try new kinds of cookies, ice cream, etc. You can lead a child to dessert, but you can’t make him eat!
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Much of this mother-blaming stuff goes back to Freud, who blamed mothers for almost every problem his patients had. This tendency stuck. Once upon a time I had a child with problems, a child I felt fiercy protective of. Over time, I frequently heard every single one of these “pointers,” and probably a few more. It was very painful. I realized then and even more now that people mean well. We are affiliative (is that word?) creatures: we want to join with people we care for, and so we try to reach into our own store of wisdom to help them. Generally, people mean to help when they say these things, and even if they didn’t, there is not much common knowledge about this kind of thing. When I think back, it seems to me that one of the best ways I might have worked on self-acceptance and the lessening of guilt might have been to think, when some well-meaning person made one of these statements, that they DID mean well, and simply didn’t understand. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be frustration, especially when one is having a bad day…but in the end, we are all in this together, and we never know when we’re going to need someone, so maybe taking time to understand–when the kid isn’t around–and an attempt at patience might be more helpful than resentment.