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Tips for Living A Sensory-Friendly Life

Tips for Living A Sensory-Friendly Life

Mar 3, 2023

If you turn on the news, you may have been surprised to hear a pleasant story about a business in your community having “sensory-friendly” or “autism-friendly” days and events catered specifically toward families with a loved one on the autism spectrum. 

Whether it is a quiet hour at a grocery store, a movie screening where moviegoers are allowed—even encouraged!—to get up and move during the showing, or a dedicated room in a football stadium that holds nearly 70,000, the sensory-friendly movement has been gaining traction, and fast. 

“Not only does it make sense on a human level, as we want to be able to include individuals on the autism spectrum in even our day-to-day errands,” said Kate McMullin, L.C.S.W., R.P.T., C.A.S., a therapist at Inspira Health Center Woodbury. “But it makes business sense as well. Across the country, nearly 12 million people are impacted by spectrum disorders each day, and those are people you want to have enjoying your store or service.”

After learning about the move towards sensory friendliness that’s going on in your community and across the country, you may be interested in trying to help. On the surface, it may seem like it would be hard for you to get involved if you don’t own or manage a business. The good news is that there are plenty of ways that you can make your life—and the lives of those around you—sensory-friendly.

“Being sensory-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to modify your entire house to mimic a sensory-friendly room,” said McMullin. “While there are some basic changes that you can make environmentally, sensory friendliness is also just as much about the way that you conduct yourself with those who have sensory sensitivity.” 

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re interacting with someone on the autism spectrum or other sensory sensitivities:

  • Making eye contact may be uncomfortable for people on the autism spectrum, and it can be easy for people on the other side of the conversation to take this as being rude. Remember that an individual’s senses include more than what they simply see and hear. 
  • If you’re in your own home, and you happen to have dimmable lights, ask the individual if they prefer the lights to be dimmed or not. Everybody has a preferred brightness level, but it may be harder for someone with sensory sensitivities to adjust to either very bright or very dark settings. 
  • Body language and non-verbal cues play a significant role in conversation. However, some people on the spectrum have a difficult time picking up on them. They may not notice cues such as eye rolls, crossing your arms and shaking your head. To work around this, try to be as direct as possible with your point. 
  • Keep smells in the room neutral and avoid scents that can be too potent, such as scented candles and cleaning supplies. 
  • Visual organization is also important to keep in mind for someone with sensory needs. Walking into a cluttered room can cause sensory overload for someone on the autism spectrum.

A person on the spectrum may also be sensitive to noise.

“One of the most important things to remember is that just because something isn’t loud to you, doesn’t mean that it’s not loud to others,” said McMullin. “By being mindful of others' senses, we’re working towards a more enjoyable society for everyone.” 

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Topics: Children's Health, Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation