The Mighty Logo

What You Don’t See When You Misjudge My Son’s Sensory Overload

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I see your stares and sometimes dirty looks. I hear the comments and the whispers when my son covers his ears and screams as the intercom comes on in the grocery store. Or when he falls to the ground and whines when we walk outside on a sunny day. I’m sure you’ll write it off as bad behavior, bad parenting or both.

I recount the times we attempted haircuts in public salons, and you were there sneering at his screams and tears.

I hear you, the perfect mom, disapproving of his lunch and its lack of healthy choices. I’m sure you see a lazy parent who just gives in to her kid’s demands.

And you, friend, when I apologize for our absence from a party, I know you don’t understand and we seem antisocial. And on the few occasions we go to a social event and there’s a baby crying in the room, as my son screams out and begins crying himself, I see the annoyance in your eyes. And you’re annoyed because you see a kid that simply wants attention. If only it were that simple.

You don’t see the hours upon hours of therapy he’s experienced so he can tolerate going into a grocery store. He may have to cover his ears, he may have his moments, but he is working hard in that moment to hold it all together. And how I wish you’d realize an understanding smile in that moment would make all the difference.

You don’t see the panic and anxiety in his eyes when we talk about a haircut. You don’t see the many therapy sessions that involved simply tolerating being in the room with a set of clippers going.  You don’t hear the pain in his cries when the hair or water touches him.  You don’t know that we prepare for weeks leading up to a haircut. And now with an understanding stylist, who is willing to take lots of breaks and help talk him through it and avoids clippers altogether, haircuts are still hard, but they’re so much better than they once were.

While you may see an unhealthy lunch, you don’t see the months of therapy it took for him to accept eating that apple. Yes, it’s the only fruit or vegetable he will eat, but we’re moving forward. You haven’t seen him gag, cry or flip a table when presented with a new food. It’s not a matter of appeasing a picky eater; it’s a battle with his senses, it’s anxiety about the unknown and it’s hard for him. When family, friends and teachers accept that our food choices are a work in progress, when they take the pressure off because they realize how hard we’re working to eat healthier, this mama breathes a sigh of relief.

When a loud, chaotic social event is over, you don’t see the meltdown. You don’t see him rocking and crying and singing for hours as he tries to bring himself down from the sensory overload he’s experienced. So forgive me, there are times when we just avoid the party all together. But that doesn’t mean we don’t wish we could be there or that he doesn’t enjoy playing with friends. So please keep trying, and if it’s a smaller gathering and I think he can handle it, we will try. But understand and don’t be offended if there are times when we can’t.

Imagine hearing too much, seeing too much and feeling too much every time you walked into a room. That is life with sensory processing disorder, and there are times when it’s just too much.

You can always choose to see what you want to see. These are hard conversations to have because they set him apart, but now you know. And now that you know, perhaps you can see things differently.

boy next to tree
Mandy’s son smiling in front of a tree

Follow this journey on From the Bowels of Motherhood.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: September 23, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home