People on the Autistic Spectrum can have a lot of difficulty processing sensory information, this is what the brain picks up from our senses like smell, sight, taste, hearing or touch.
Sensory overload can affect my behaviour and have a negative impact on my life if I let it. It is often easier to dodge activities for example shopping, going on public transport, football matches going to a night club etc. it can be noise, smells, the constant movement around me, the lighting all this just gets too much.
My mum bought me very soft clothing when I was little as I have tactile sensitivity and I am hypersensitive to certain materials. It took me years to wear a pair of jeans and even today would prefer track suit bottoms.
If there is too much visual stimulation I find it hard to make eye contact, I turn away from people talking to me and I bump into things, I don’t like a bedside light an overhead light is better for me as not as bright.
Noise is one of the main sensory issues that can affect me, this typically happens a lot more when I am in environments that I am not used to. It can depend on my mood also, one day I can handle a situation the next day it overwhelms me. I cannot shut off background noise. If I am in a conversation with one person I can hear all the other conversations going on in the background this is really distracting for me as the noise can be agonising.
Too much sensory information makes me feel anxious and stressed, I feel physical pain in my body and a very sharp hot pain in my ears. I feel overwhelmed, get a sick feeling in my tummy and feel drained. When I was younger this overload could lead me to having a meltdown but today I deal better with it because I use tools to help me cope. But I still suffer overload and I feel sometimes people just don’t understand what is happening to me and rather than help they make the situation worse, not out of badness they just don’t understand.
In a child with Autism onlookers often think it’s a tantrum they are having when it is sensory overload which is very different. They do not need to be treated for a tantrum, if people understood this they could help better.
One thing that really affected me in school was the constant moving around for each class, crowds of people bumping and pushing moving around the corridor and the noise level was so high it hurt my ears. On the football pitch when the coach would call everyone into a huddle I felt trapped like in a in a confined space, with people holding you there.
Social situations that can bring on a sensory overload for me would be a big group of people where I don’t know many, this can cause my brain to overthink everything and I start to get flustered and worried about what everyone is thinking about me.
At home If people turn up unexpectedly it causes me stress, If we have a large crowd in the house like for my brothers anniversary or if little kids come over and they are very loud and don’t give you your personal space and start to climb all over you. People who don’t understand ASD just think I am being difficult but if they understood it would be much easier, I often go to my bedroom to hide and get out of the situation when people are around.
Tips that can help:
- Please click this link for a video to get a little bit of an insight.
- Ear Plugs
- Removing all tags from clothing
- Wash new clothes before you wear them
- Work with an OT on sensory integration
- Some shops have a sensory shopping evening where the lights are dimmed, music turned off and no in-store announcements are made which is a great idea and more stores should do this
- If someone is having sensory overload ask yes or no questions as they are easier to respond to
- Turn down bright lights
- Movement breaks – if you feel overwhelmed have a movement break, remove yourself from the situation before it gets unbearable