Sensory overload is one of the most common struggles for people with autism or Asperger’s, but as with most things, it looks a little different for every individual.  My friend Megan had a really good post on her journal in which she listed the sensory inputs that she finds comforting and the things that lead to sensory overload.  I also like the point she makes about how being so sensitive is not all bad; it also means that we can find a lot of joy and comfort in simple things.

Anyway, I thought I’d use the same format she used to describe what sensory overload is like for me.

What sounds are comforting?

  • Rain on the roof.
  • A breeze rustling the trees.
  • The normal background noises of nature– frogs, insects, and birds.
  • An album of familiar songs that I know by heart.
  • An instrumental passage or guitar solo that rocks so much I have to turn the sound up, close my eyes, and nod my head (hopefully when no one is watching!)
  • A cat’s purr.
  • Silence.

What sights are comforting?

  • Maps.
  • Systems that use symbols and/or colors to organize things or convey information (especially if the color choices make sense).
  • Simple graphics using straight lines and bright colors.
  • Complete sets (of elements, constellations, countries, planets).

What textures are comforting?

  • Cold, smooth, clean surfaces.
  • A couch where I can stretch out and feel that it is there from my head to my toes.
  • A car or bus window when it is cold outside and I can press my head up against it.
  • A purring cat curled up on my chest/stomach.
  • Holding a smooth, hard game piece like a domino or a shogi tile, feeling the grooved patterns on it.

What spaces are comforting?

  • The edge of a room, with a sturdy wall I can lean against and feel that it is there.
  • The arc of a swing.
  • A hiding place.
  • A beautifully and logically designed game board.
  • The golden ratio.
  • A wide open place that is uncrowded and safe, where I have room to move and I know I am allowed to move.

What smells are comforting?

  • Waffles (or really any good food) cooking.
  • Approaching rain (ozone).
  • Autumn smells (fallen leaves, wood burning).

What tastes are comforting?

  • Pasta (texture as well as taste)
  • Cinnamon Life + Honey Nut Cheerios (the meal I have eaten more times than any other)
  • Mint Oreos in milk
  • Key lime pie with graham cracker crust

What are some of my favorite places?

  • Our cabin at Penn’s Creek, especially waking up in my bedroom feeling refreshed after my only lucid dream, when I decided to fly after I realized I was dreaming but didn’t wake up immediately.
  • On a cruise to Alaska, the quiet corner of the ship’s lounge my family found to talk, play games, enjoy hot tea, and watch the scenery pass outside.
  • Some parts of my football website (the few parts that are up to date!)
  • Places that aren’t real!  Red Brinstar in Super Metroid and the underwater glass tube, Snow Barrel Blast in Donkey Kong Country, the Tiger’s Claw (Wing Commander I), the Shire and Rivendell in Tolkien’s books.
  • The basement of our house when it is cool and quiet.
  • The tire swing at our house in Danville.
  • Being at home with the whole family around a warm fireplace while it rains or snows outside.

What things trigger sensory overload for me?

  • Having to navigate an unfamiliar place.
  • Multitasking (except for a few specific exceptions, like following multiple games in sports).
  • A lot of people talking at the same time, especially if some of them sound angry, frustrated, or upset.
  • Situations with a lot of rules that I don’t know or understand (or where I am expected to “just know” what to do).
  • A lot of bright lights from different directions in a dark area (especially driving through a city at night).
  • Signs, messages, and arresting images everywhere that don’t have any rhyme or reason (like a shelf of books or CDs in a bookstore; every cover is trying to get me to look at it by being the brightest, the most different, or the most shocking).
  • Portrayals of infinity.
  • Situations where I can’t find a place to stay out of the way and observe.
  • The feeling of chalk dust on my hands.
  • Being covered with dirt, mud, or sand.
  • A blaring television or radio that no one else is paying attention to.
  • Emotional overload.
  • Sometimes, I experience sensory overload after the fact– I’ve managed to negotiate a social situation or other challenge successfully, but as soon as I’m back home and able to relax, all of the stress comes crashing back in on me.

How can I tell if I’m approaching sensory overload?

  • My muscles tense up.
  • I find it hard to concentrate on work or fun activities.
  • I get a headache (sometimes a migraine)
  • I have an overwhelming urge to escape the situation I’m in, as soon as possible!

What happens when my senses are overloaded?

  • I try to get away, become (even more) quiet, and try to be inconspicuous.
  • My stimming behaviors, like toe-walking, rocking in place, swinging my legs, and biting my nails become more pronounced.
  • I appear to “zone out,” avoiding eye contact with everyone, instead focusing on something in the distance or on nothing at all, the “thousand-yard stare.”
  • My speech becomes very nervous; I speak faster, more quietly, and less clearly.
  • I have a harder time listening and retaining information.
  • With strangers, I may freeze or operate in slow motion, perhaps giving the impression that I am stupid or impaired.
  • With people close to me, I may become impatient and grumpy, snapping at them (apparent from my tone of voice; I may say “Okay, thanks,” but my tone of voice says “Stop talking to me and leave me alone!”

How can I prevent sensory overload?

  • Learn my capacity for sensory bombardment; accept the fact that it is less than most people’s and that I need to choose which things I participate in.
  • Give myself permission and allow time in my schedule to stay at home and rest.
  • If I’m in a situation that could lead to sensory overload, plan ways that I can take breaks, such as going for a walk by myself or sitting and reading during an optional activity.
  • Have others who know me well, that I can go to for help when I start to feel overloaded.

What’s in my sensory emergency kit?

  • Headphones and an MP3 player with all of my favorite music on it.
  • A puzzle book (especially cryptic crosswords).

How can I recover from sensory overload?

  • Time by myself, not talking to anyone.
  • After that, someone to talk to.  🙂
  • Taking a nap.
  • Taking a hot bath.

How do I know when I’ve recovered from sensory overload?

  • I no longer have a headache.
  • I am able to be around other people and enjoy their company.
  • I can get work done; I can be creative again.

What things cause you sensory overload, and how do you deal with it?

Advertisements