Why Sensory Stuff Matters to Social Stuff

Wooden human figure doll with head slumped down and arms crossed as if hurting.
I talk a lot about body feelings, like noticing your hands. But what does that have to do with making friends?

A good question

A client asked me recently what the purpose is of paying attention to sensations in his body. Essentially, he wanted to know how body feelings have anything to do with making friends. Have you wondered this?

It’s a fair question. I tried to explain it at the time, and then thought that having it in writing, to mull over again later, would be helpful. So here are three big reasons.

Reason one

First of all, when your energy is being used up dealing with your sensory needs, you don’t have any left to be pleasant to potential friends.

Imagine you get home at the end of a long and exhausting day, you didn’t get enough to eat, you have a headache, the dog won’t stop barking, someone burnt toast so now you have that smell to deal with, and you only want five minutes of peace except a little kid is happily singing at the top of their high-pitched lungs. You’re probably not going to have the energy to roll with it or politely redirect them to a quieter activity. You’re not going to be your best self.

Now imagine that day is every day.

Because of the second reason.

Reason two

Which is, that your sensory stuff is probably affecting you more than you realize. 

Which you can only find out if you start actively paying attention to how your body feels.

However, how your body feels is something that most of us on the spectrum, and with other sensory differences, often learn to ignore as children. Which makes complete sense. If you’re constantly being hurt by something, and have no idea what to do about it, and the people around you don’t know what to do about it, your options are either to suffer or numb your feelings.

Many people unconsciously default to numbing, at least to some degree, so you may not even know how much sensory stuff is affecting you, or alternately, how useful it can be.

Which brings me to reason three.

Reason three

Your body has a wealth of knowledge, but you can’t tap into it unless you practice using it.

Our senses take in approximately 11 million bits of information per second. That’s a vast quantity of data that is being processed by different parts of your body, and that you’ve been collecting for years, decades, your entire life. 

However, we can only consciously process roughly 50 to 120 bits of information per second. Sooooo much less than what we are taking in!

Your body has been gathering and storing that information away, categorizing it and making sense out of patterns, and yet only a tiny bit of it is available to your conscious awareness.

You can access the rest, but only if you get in touch with how your body feels at any given moment. 

For most people, this comes across as a gut feeling, a hunch, or intuition, and a lot of times that intuition turns out to be pretty accurate. Not always—the system isn’t perfect—but it’s trainable. 

You can learn to use this consciously and integrate it with the data in your conscious awareness, and when the two systems work together, accuracy goes way up.

With experience, you can use this system to help you make decisions about things like, is this person going to be a good friend to me? Are they teasing me playfully or to be mean? Is this person someone I should avoid? Is this a bad situation for me? 

Those of us on the spectrum tend to be either overly trusting or overly skeptical, either getting ourselves into bad situations or avoiding every possible situation. Neither extreme is particularly helpful, and using an integrated body-mind approach is a great way to balance the extreme reactions that come from using only our minds to make judgments.

I hope this helps as a brief overview of what sensory stuff has to do with making friends.

What do you think? Comment below to let me know.

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One Response

  1. Sensory stuff is really rough! However… I love empathising with other Autistic people. That brings me a lot of joy even though sometimes I socially isolate.
    I personally enjoy my difference and often just relax so that the sensories don’t affect me so much, e.g. bringing a cuddly pillow to school everyday for months and months, and sometimes sleeping slightly during class is quite relaxing. It’s a nice escape even when the class is loud and annoying.
    I also did something good recently – Removed myself from the class when I knew it was annoying me. But couldn’t tell anyone so no one actually knew.
    I’m able to sort of get over that hurdle and I actually enjoy the challenge of socialising, and accept that not everyone is going to get every aspect of me, but at least some people like me for who I am ^.^ <3~

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, every science ending in -ology, and all things Star Trek!

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