Sensory Friendly: What does it Mean for You?
Sensory Friendly is a term that we hear a lot, and it can mean different things to different people. The same person might even have different sensory needs at different times, in different places, and different situations. Stress levels can also affect sensory responses, whether social stress, noise, bright lights, or other sensations. When you go out, you want to be able to protect yourself from unwanted sensory assaults. Here are some tips that I hope might be helpful. You’ll probably think of more, yourself.
If you’re bothered by loud sound, like the volume level in most movie theaters, you might find that loop-type ear plugs or noise-cancelling ear buds or headphones can help. These can also be useful against unexpected sounds like a car backfiring or a dog barking suddenly.
If there are specific sounds that you know will bother you, try to be prepared. If you can’t stand the sound of people eating, but you want to share a meal with your family or friends, consider playing music in the background to mask the chewing.
Maybe it’s the sound of metal silverware, knives scraping against forks, forks against teeth, that drive you crazy. Background music can help here, too, as well as substituting bamboo or plastic utensils when you can.
Sometimes it’s not the sound, it’s the number of sounds going on at the same time that can be problematic. Do you feel your stress levels rise when you can hear music in one room, the TV going in the next room, a conversation nearby, and then someone tries to engage you in conversation? You might need to combine ear protection with family rules about how many multiple sound sources can be on at the same time.
If you’re bothered by bright sunlight, arm yourself with sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats or caps. When you can, try substituting LED low lighting instead of bright or flickering fluorescent bulbs. Sometimes avoiding bright colors and busy patterns can reduce stress or anxiety.
If you’re bothered by tactile or touch experiences, I don’t have to tell you to buy tagless shirts or cut tags out of clothing. You’ve already figured that out. If the feeling of seams in socks annoys you if the seams are not perfectly aligned with your toes, you probably either avoid wearing socks or you find seamless socks. Many people prefer buying clothing that is 100% cotton, and obviously avoid fabrics that they find aversive, such as microfiber, wool, or corduroy. With experimentation you can find the type of clothing that feels best to you.
Odors can be problematic if you are olfactory avoiding. You might avoid walking down aisles in stores that have detergents, or scented candles. But sometimes you can be unexpectedly assaulted by the cologne of a passerby, your cat’s recently used litter box, or body odors in a crowd. How do you cope? If there is another odor that brings you joy, use it to counteract problematic perfumes. Carry a few coffee beans, or a sprig of pine, or a cinnamon stick, and you can inhale their pleasing aroma to ward off bothersome smells. Or soak a cloth handkerchief in water which has vanilla or your favorite essential oil in it. After the cloth has dried, the pleasing aroma remains, so that you can hold it to your nose when needed. Some people always carry scented hand sanitizer or moisturizing lotion in their favorite scents.
We all have our favorite foods. And why not? There are so many flavors and food textures to love. Of course, most of us also have foods we do not like and will not eat. Nothing wrong with that. If someone doesn’t enjoy foods that are mushy, or slimy, or that mix crunchy and smooth in the same bite, it’s easy enough to avoid those foods. The important thing to remember is that you have the right to your preferences. Other people shouldn’t try to push or badger you to eat foods you know you don’t want to eat. Your body, your food choices.
If you or your family members become easily overwhelmed in the presence of lots of sensory experiences, you should seek out sensory friendly places and events. Some movie theaters offer special showings when the sound volume is lowered, low lights are left on so that it’s not pitch dark, and people who choose this viewing expect to be tolerant if children leave their seats or vocalize during the movie.
Some museums, especially children’s museums, also have special sensory-friendly hours when the lights and volume are lower than usual.
Amusement parks may also have special events or features designed for highly sensitive families.
Check out their websites.
If you want to go to a particular place and you wonder if they have sensory friendly hours or offerings, check them out online. If you don’t see any mention of them being “sensory friendly,” call their information line and ask. You might inspire them to start offering sensory friendly hours and activities.
The bottom line
Being aware of your sensory needs, and sharing this knowledge with those close to you, can make a big difference. You have a right to your sensory responses. It’s smart to find strategies and places that support you rather than overwhelming you. Learn what “Sensory Friendly” means for you and your family, and respect your sensory needs.