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Managing Clashing Sensory Needs in Neurodiverse Families


Dr. Megan Anna Neff is a tremendously insightful and eloquent autistic psychologist. She originally published this on her blog: https://neurodivergentinsights.com/blog and has generously allowed me to post it here. Enjoy!

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Being part of a neurodiverse family is simultaneously beautiful and exhausting! Given how genetically linked ADHD and Autism are, neurodivergent people tend to come together! The convergence of neurodivergent traits often requires us to navigate the complexities of managing competing sensory needs in our homes. Balancing these diverse sensory preferences can be a demanding task. In this blog post, I will share some practical tips and strategies for effectively managing the competing sensory needs of neurodivergent families.


Tips for Managing Clashing Sensory Needs for Autism and ADHD


Identify Everyone’s Sensory Needs

Identifying and addressing clashing sensory needs within a neurodivergent family is the first step in creating a balanced environment. By understanding and mapping out each family member's sensory profile, we can gain insight into their unique sensory preferences and sensitivities. Here are a few examples of common sensory clashes that can arise:

  • Movement and Auditory Sensitivities: One family member may need to move their body to regulate, while another may have auditory and visual sensitivities. Engaging in activities like watching a family movie can lead to sensory clashes, as the need for movement may conflict with the need for a quiet and visually calm environment.

  • Smell and Taste Sensitivities: Some family members may be sensitive to certain smells or tastes, while others may have a preference for stronger flavors or aromas. When preparing meals or using scented products in the home, finding a compromise that respects each person’s sensory preferences can be challenging.

  • Proprioception Differences: When you have a proprioception seeker who craves wrestling, rough-housing, and physical touch, and they have a sibling who is a proprioceptive avoider, it can become a recipe for intense sensory conflict!

When we lack a sensory lens to understand clashing sensory needs, assigning character statements to these differences is common. For instance, one child may be labeled as "too sensitive," while a sibling may be accused of being “obnoxious.” However, it's important to recognize that it's not about individuals intentionally exhibiting certain behaviors but rather that their sensory needs are conflicting. By framing it as clashing needs, we can focus on identifying the underlying needs and use neutral language that reduces shame and fosters understanding.


Normalize Talking about Sensory Needs

Normalize open discussions about these competing sensory needs within the family. By framing them as "competing sensory needs," we externalize the situation, acknowledging that it's not about blaming but recognizing the inherent conflicts.


This approach allows us to engage in problem-solving and brainstorming together. For instance, during a family movie, I might initiate a conversation by saying: "It seems like Mark's need for movement is affecting your ability to focus, Grace. What ideas do you both have to address this situation?"


It's important to consider your children's age and developmental stage when facilitating these discussions, as younger children may require simpler language and guidance in generating solutions. Creating a safe and non-judgmental space where everyone's input is valued fosters a collaborative approach to finding solutions that work for everyone in the family.


Prepare for Conflict and Clashing Sensory Needs

Anticipate and acknowledge that conflicts will arise when dealing with different sensory profiles within the family. It's important to recognize that these conflicts are a natural outcome of having diverse sensory needs, and they do not indicate a dysfunctional relationship or an unhealthy family dynamic. Instead, they provide opportunities for growth, learning, and the development of essential skills such as honoring different needs, navigating boundaries, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.


Embrace these moments as chances to model effective communication, empathy, and understanding. By approaching conflicts with a mindset of curiosity and collaboration, you can foster a supportive and harmonious environment that values the unique sensory needs of each family member.


Gather Resources

Take a proactive approach by gathering resources that can aid in minimizing conflicts arising from clashing sensory needs. For instance, in our family, purchasing a wobble disc and sensory swing proved helpful during movie time, as it allowed our child with a need for movement to engage their body without disrupting others' focus.


Exploring sensory resources can provide you with options for supporting sensory needs within your family. Finding the right tools and accommodations can help create a more harmonious environment where everyone's sensory needs are acknowledged and respected.


Conclusion

In conclusion, navigating clashing sensory needs within a neurodivergent household requires proactive steps and open communication. By acknowledging and understanding the diverse sensory needs present in the family, we can create an environment that fosters understanding, respect, and harmony. By:

  • Identifying individual sensory needs

  • Normalizing discussions around clashing sensory needs

  • Preparing for conflicts

  • Gathering helpful resources

These steps play a crucial role in fostering a supportive and enjoyable family dynamic. With intentional effort and communication, we can minimize sensory meltdowns, enhance family connections, and create a space where everyone's sensory well-being is considered. By working together and embracing our diverse sensory profiles, we can create a nurturing and inclusive environment for all members of our neurodivergent family.




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