Many of you know that my daughter has Asperger's Syndrome. This was diagnosed when she was about 10 years old, and although we've had some years to learn and understand how this affects her, we are always seeking ways to understand how she experiences the world and how we can help her learn to negotiate the world in a way that is comfortable for her. We know that Miss C has some extreme sensitivities -- super-sensitive hearing, so that someone grating a fork against a plate in a restaurant will make her jump, or the high pitched, dog-whistle like ping of fluorescent lights will make a setting unbearable; high sensitivity to smells, so that eating in a cafeteria and smelling everyone's lunch smells mixed together could make her gag; extreme reactions to light flashes, so that someone taking flash pictures across the room in a restaurant can bring on a migraine... It's got to make the world a pretty unfriendly place at times. When Miss C was younger (and we didn't know better), we thought that she was being sulky or rude or just tantrumy about being somewhere she didn't want to be. Now we understand that certain settings -- which might seem perfectly lovely and tolerable to everyone else -- can be extremely overwhelming and/or downright painful for her.
You may well know someone who is on the autistic spectrum, and chances are they experience the world with some of those sorts of sensory sensitivities. This short video provides an interesting example of what sensory overload feels like to someone on the autistic spectrum.
Now, when I see a kid acting tantrum-y in a store (knowing, now, how malls with all of their smells and lights and sounds and echoy noises, are torture for Miss C) I think that maybe the child is just overwhelmed and can't cope.
It makes you wonder how you would cope if you had to experience the world this way, doesn't it?