Believe in her sensory needs
Neurodivergent people often get to see, hear, feel and taste things more intensely. They are not imagining it, and they're not over-sensitive.
This can feel beautiful, but it can get overwhelming if her senses have to take in too much at once.
School can be really overwhelming to the senses because of all the unpredictable noise, lights and smells. This can really add up over the day. That’s why you might find that she is very overwhelmed after she comes home from school.
If school staff haven't picked up that she's neurodivergent and she's too anxious to express what makes her feel ok, they may not believe that she has any sensory needs. They might even get impatient with her about them, for example if she struggles with eating lunch or can't concentrate in a noisy classroom.
Maybe you don't feel like you understand her sensory needs sometimes either. That might particularly be the case if you’re neurotypical yourself. She might say that something doesn’t feel right in her body but it doesn't seem logical to you. For example, if you feel that the room is hot but she’s getting distressed because she feels very cold. Or perhaps she gets very upset when she has a little paper cut, and you don’t think it looks very painful.
But it's really important to believe what your girl is telling you about how her body feels. If you are neurotypical, she experiences the world through her senses in a different way from you, which may be hard for you to empathise with. But she's not imagining it.
If your girl is hearing over and over again every day from adults she trusts that she is imagining the sensory pain in her body, it teaches her not to trust her body and her instincts. That makes it harder for her to set her own boundaries with other people. Then she's more vulnerable to being manipulated and abused as she gets older.
You can help. When something feels wrong for her, show that you're are listening. Be curious, and find out how it feels for her so you can really understand and be kind. Show that you trust and believe in her, and help her work out what will make her feel ok again. Role-model and express when you're taking care of your own sensory needs, too, in a healthy way.
This signals that it's ok for her to set boundaries and trust what her body is telling her.
Find out about all the different senses, including proprioception, interoception and vestibular from the National Autistic Society
Ideas from Sensory Smarts about creating a ‘sensory diet’
The Kids' Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control by Lauren Brukner: exercises and body breaks to help regulate emotions and senses
Find out about unintentional gaslighting and the trauma it can cause with blog The Articulate Autistic
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