I have read variations on this theme on several blogs by autistic individuals who deal with sensory issues that impact them in their daily lives. Things such as the feel of metal silverware on the teeth or the sound it makes when scraping on teeth. To cope, they come up with clever solutions to avoid the issue, or work around it. Often the solutions involve behaviors or tools that fall “outside the norm”, which then draws attention (sometimes curious, often negative). Trying to explain what’s going on is often met with an unsympathetic, “That’s no big deal. Why don’t you just get over it?”
This sucks. For someone with sensory issues, usually it isn’t possible to “get over it”, or it takes a heck of a lot of work and is more of a “got used to it” situation.
Sadly, this unsympathetic, insensitive attitude is pretty universal. I’m sure most of us can think of a time when we were having a challenge or issue of some sort, and someone who didn’t want to take the time to deal with our being stuck or out of sorts (or to be honest – didn’t have the depth of character to be respectful enough to try to be understanding) just whipped out the old “get over it” line. We feel marginalized and somehow “less than” – somehow our issues aren’t real or don’t count. It’s bad enough when this happens to us when we’re adults, but when we’re children? AARGH!
One of my pet peeves is telling toddler boys to “man up” – basically the equivalent of “get over it”. Another winner that falls into the same category is “It’s no big deal, why are you so upset?” To me, these phrases have several different translations – here are a few:
“I don’t give a s#!t how you feel because it’s inconveniencing me.”
“I don’t want to take the time to deal with this, so stop.”
“I don’t want to do the extra work involved to actually try to understand your point of view.”
I find it ironic that NT’s often believe that autistic people lack empathy, which is UNTRUE, and often the complete opposite situation is occuring (over-empathy related withdrawal). As an NT myself, I’ve found that there is no limit to the lack of empathy in the NT world. And what’s sad, is that NT’s can choose how empathetic they want/appear to be. It’s pathetic when we choose not to be.
As a parent of an autistic child, I have to go the extra mile to find out how things affect my child. It’s my job to go beyond “get over it” and into “what’s going on and how do we deal with it?” When there’s a problem, it really doesn’t take that much longer for me to stop and think – “how is he experiencing this?”, and try to work it out from there. Often, a little time in this empathetic place saves a LOT of time (and frustration) in the end. It saves us a lot of stress and hurt feelings.
I like to think that most of us aren’t “hard cases”, and that the right situation or set of circumstances might kick someone free of the “get over it” attitude. I saw a dad once who was getting really frustrated with his kid not wanting to sit in the chair at a restaurant play place. The frustration level was SO high for both of them (turns out they’d had a really rough morning). I ventured a guess to the dad, that maybe the chair was to big and was pressing the child’s legs so that they hurt. That hadn’t even occurred to him. He suggested the booth, and the kid sat right down. Because he got out of his head, and into hers, the rest of their time together was calm.
We need to keep this idea in our heads, and ask ourselves often “how is the other person experiencing this?”. It takes work, but it can make a bit of difference in a person’s life – autistic, sensory sensitive, or stressed-out NT of any age.