Did you know that in addition to the classic symptoms of Autism (social deficits, language difficulties, repetitive behavior), many individuals with Autism also suffer from sensory overload?
Imagine having all your senses overloaded at once — Visual stimuli like bright lights and blurred images; loud sounds; strong smells. It’s not only extremely uncomfortable; it can induce panic, nausea, or vomiting – even after leaving the source of discomfort behind. Even when taking into account that these sensory experiences are subjective to each individual’s preference and tolerance levels.
Sensory overload is described by children with ASD as an ‘all-over body experience,’ where sights and sounds are perceived very intensely. Adults, on the other hand, illustrate their experiences through visual metaphors: “feeling like water gushing down your ears, smelling salts being thrown at you and feeling sandpaper under your feet.”
Sensory overload is a common issue for individuals with Autism.
Sensory overload occurs when a person experiences an intense amount of stimulation from their senses. For people with Autism, this can be especially difficult because their senses may work differently than those of someone without Autism.
Some common symptoms of sensory overload include: feeling overwhelmed, feeling out of control, feeling agitated or angry, feeling panicked or stressed, and having a meltdown.
It is important to remember that all people experience the world through sensory experiences; we just tend to disagree on what smells good and what feels comfortable for many individuals with Autism (between 50 and 70%), these differences in sensory preference cause major distress and discomfort. And when left uncontrolled or untreated, it can lead to autistic meltdowns – where the person may become frustrated/angry/violent – sometimes even escaping from whatever environment they’re in, in order for it all to stop.
These behaviors are not only difficult for the individual themselves; but also difficult for parents, guardians, or caregivers, who may feel powerless when confronted with such behavior. It is important to remember that an autistic meltdown is not personal and should never be responded to with anger or punishment. The best thing anyone can do in this situation is to remain calm, avoid shouting and try to remove the person from the source of overload if possible.
So what can be done to help reduce sensory overload in people with Autism?
There are a number of interventions that have been found to be effective in reducing sensory overload in people with Autism. One popular approach is called ‘sensory integration therapy’. This approach uses a range of activities – such as swinging, rolling, climbing, and spinning – that help the individual to better process information coming in through their senses. Another approach is using ‘weighted blankets.’ These blankets are made with extra weight (usually 10-15% of the person’s body weight) to help provide a sense of calm and grounding.
While there is no ‘cure’ for sensory overload, these interventions can help to provide some relief and improve the quality of life for those affected.
If you are the parent or guardian of someone with Autism, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of sensory overload so that you can respond quickly and effectively if it occurs. Remember, always stay calm and avoid shouting – it will only make things worse. If you need help or support in dealing with an autistic meltdown, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your local autism organization or therapist. They will be more than happy to help!
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