Sensory Processing Disorder Can Also Mean Loud and Rude

sensory processing disorder sign

I keep a pair of earplugs readily located  in my epi-pen bag.

Today was a hard day. It was a hard day, and I didn’t handle it as well as I could have.

Today we went to the zoo. He can only handle the zoo in a stroller. He is 7. Without a stroller, he is completely overwhelmed by the crowds and the sheer size of the exhibits.

I see the people staring at me, wondering why that “big kid” who looks “perfectly normal” is in a stroller. I don’t care anymore.

Today he wanted to go to the Dolphin Show.

Until today, I have avoided the Dolphin Show. I know what it’s like in there: it’s going to be echo-y, it’s going to be loud, and it’s going to be crowded. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted. He needs to learn these things for himself now that he is 7. He needs to start developing coping skills, even if it means learning what to avoid. And even if it means I know that we are making a tactical day-at-the-zoo error.

We looked for a seat. We had to try three different seats before he was satisfied.

I noticed quite quickly that he was becoming agitated, and the show hadn’t even started. I tried to distract him by pointing out all of the cool stuff that the dolphins, who were just hanging out, were doing. I tried to feed him snacks to keep his mind off of the noise.  He could not focus:  he told me he didn’t understand why the music was so loud. I gave him the ear plugs, but he pulled them out because he didn’t like how they felt.

When sensory input agitates my son, he starts to get crabby and mean. He was angry with me and with the show. In a very rude tone, he bombarded me with questions:  when will the show start? why is it so loud? why is it so crowded? won’t you ask them to make the music quieter?

It’s very hard to explain to a child that his feelings are only a result of his brain not understanding how to deal with what is going on around him.

sensory processing disorder

Things only went downhill from there. Once the show started and the noise was enhanced by an amplified announcer, I should have known better.  We should have left. I can not tell you how many people were watching us –  how many people wondering why was this kid acting so mean to his mother — why just could not enjoy the Dolphin Show. I am sure it even detracted from their enjoyment of the show. Sometimes I wish he could wear a sign that says,

“I have Sensory Processing Disorder.  If  I’m loud, or rude, or if I refuse to talk to you, please don’t take it personally”


Try and understand what it would be like if you could not function because the information coming in through your senses was getting stuck in a tape loop and hitting a brick wall when it got to your brain.

Imagine you are a child and the world is scarier for you than for almost everyone else. Think of that kid in your son’s tennis class who is always yelling, the boy in your daughter’s music class who sits in the corner and won’t participate, why that kid in the park can not seem to stay out of your kid’s face.

Before you label him a “bad kid” or the product of “bad parents,” think again.  Although he looks PERFECTLY normal on the outside, he’s got a complicated brain.  Things that come naturally to you – and to your child – well,  he has to learn how to “force” his brain to deal with them. Rather than your judgement, this child needs your empathy and your understanding.


*A version of this post was originally published on Our Land, an amazing series you should check out at Finding Ninee


19 thoughts on “Sensory Processing Disorder Can Also Mean Loud and Rude

  1. I’m not a parent and can’t begin to understand how you all deal with what you do. However, I am so thankful to have connected with you “mommy bloggers” so that I don’t do things like judge the mom who has her child in a stroller. I’ve learned so much from you all!

    • Kate, you’re awesome and I can’t imagine you being judgey. Although I know I did it once or twice 😉 before I had kids. It’s so hard. After Isaiah, I definitely felt badly for all the times I wondered “why that mom just couldn’t….”
      Thanks for caring.

  2. My son has this, and as I have read more about it, I have realized I have it, as well. My son has gotten a lot better as he’s gotten older, and his teachers have been just completely awesome with him, but he still has issues with noise and with food textures. I am looking into eating therapy for him this summer (it was a bit overwhelming for him to do school and start therapy, so I let him wait), so hopefully that will help. Good luck to you guys. I hope you can find something that will work for Isaiah. And yes, what they need more than anything is our understanding.

    • My older sister specializes in eating therapy Jessica, it will definitely help. She’s the one who got us through it. BUT you have to follow the rules, no matter how hard it is!

  3. Oh, Jen. We should have t-shirts made. Saying we are just trying our best so F off. Okay, not very Zen. But my heart hurts for you. I get so upset with myself when I know this is a bad idea but I know if Boo could just relax for a second she would have the time for her life. I get mad at me when I realize I was wrong. That she cannot relax for one second. That life is scarier for her. That she has SPD that paralyzes her in ways I do not understand.

    At the end of the day, though, you did the best you could. He wanted to do the show, you wanted to experience it with him. I’m sorry it wasn’t the experience it should have been.

    I’m sorrier that those who stared didn’t get it.

  4. I think I know an adult who may have this disorder, though undiagnosed. It’s hard because I am all output and sensory overload…and I’m sure that I can be too much on a regular basis, but I try really hard to respect that boundary with my friend. I can’t imagine how it must be for a child. On the other hand, I think that your approach is really great. I don’t have tiny humans, but I taught reading comprehension to students with varying degrees of learning hurdles for a couple of years. It was amazing to watch how differently they all learned and be able to help them increase their reading grade level.

    • Yeah Chrissy, you’re right. It is really hard and even for a mama of one for 8 years, it’s still hard to remember sometimes that he’s not typical. Because he looks so typical on the outside.
      And you are right about the learning. We homeschool, and while math is a breeze, because it’s concrete, the lack of any real rules in reading is very hard for this straightforward boy.

  5. As always, I appreciate your posts on children who may look “normal” from the outside but are dealing with all kinds of inner stuff. You communicate so clearly about sensory processing. I can hardly imagine you not handling the situation well. You have such wonderful sympathy for your son!

    • Thanks Sarah, that is so kind of you to say. I always think I can do better, and I probably can, but I know I am doing my best!

  6. One of my little guys has a mild version, I think. He’s never been diagnosed, but he is extremely sensitive to light and noise. He functions pretty well for the most part. But, both of my kids also had severe food allergies as kids. It always drove me crazy how people made light of it. As a person who struggles with anxiety, I understand how frustrating it can be to look normal on the outside, but be far from it. And, unless you choose to broadcast it to the world like wearing a sign, it can be very frustrating. I have major issues with germs and sometimes I wish I could wear a sign that said, “If your child was throwing up in the last week, do not come near me.”
    I try really hard not to judge in situations when a child is acting out. You just never know is the best way to keep from doing that.

    • Meredith I am the same way about germs. I would never bring my kid out if he was sick, or had recently been really sick. And if your son does have it, there are a lot of resources out there, the thing about SPD is there is no cure, but teaching coping skills can be so helpful!
      Thank you so much for your words and support!

  7. I remember the post you wrote for Our Land – and it bears repeating here. I’m sorry the show was such a trial for both of you, Jen. Empathy instead of judgment – that should always be true.

  8. That post stuck with me the first time I read it and I often go back to it in my thoughts. I think it’s so important for as many people as possible to read this post to better understand the reality of SPD and I’m going to tweet that and share everywhere.

    Oh and on a totally different note – I just ADORE the new design. It’s so light and airy and engaging. Love, love, love.

  9. Great for You! As if it isn’t hard enough to deal with your son’s disorder, you have to deal with the rude people that will never understand be cause he “looks normal”. You have the patience of a saint.

  10. Go on with your badself girl…you kick ass. I have my girlfriend push me around in a stroller all the time, because you know I keep it real like that.

  11. Ugh. Jen, been there and done that. And sometimes we don’t always leave when we should, right? We gave up the stroller a while back but sometimes I miss it — more for being able to control Vman running around and not losing him in crowds.

  12. I needed to read this today. To know that I am not alone. Thank you for posting this. We have had to leave places as well that were too much for our son.

Leave a Reply to Jennifer Kehl Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s