You may have heard another parent use the term, a teacher or even a doctor, but what is sensory overload? The general definition is: difficulty focusing due to competing sensory input. It can consist of symptoms of extreme irritability, restlessness and discomfort. With an urge to cover your ears or shield your eyes from sensory input. Abi has been in sensory overload since the weekend as when she is anxious her senses get heightened and anything from the vacuum cleaner or the neighbor mowing their lawn a few houses down can send her into meltdown. Due to this I took some time away from social media and screens while it settled. As screens due to the blue light can stimulate more so our home (her safe place) has been a calm quiet environment which has helped her calm down. We have also spent a lot of time out doors as the beach has a very calming effect on her. I write this blog piece about sensory overload from my perspective as a parent of a child with ASD who has sensory sensitivity issues. I also have sensory sensitivity to certain things also. I hope this blog gives some clarity and information on the topic that may help someone.
What causes sensory overload?
In children with autism ” bright lights, loud noises, unfamiliar surroundings and situations can cause sensory overload. All of these can create stress—and sensory overload—for kids with sensory processing issues. It can also create anxiety over situations that lie ahead. That’s especially true if kids aren’t prepared or are worried about unexpected things happening.” Even with all the preparation everyday things like going to school or work(for adults) can be a battle. For Abi we have lots of things in place like a late start, no uniform until shes in class and settled.
Working with the school we have attempted to remove the main triggers we have found so far. The truth is though that the build up to school sends her into overload due to anxiety with environment and tasks. Also after school when she gets home she may meltdown as she has had to process all these new tasks. With sensory overload its important to pick up the triggers to reduce anxiety which escalates the sensory issues. It is up to the parent and those around to pick up on possible triggers and to try reduce the triggers where possible.
Under and over sensitivity to sensory input.
A person can be under or over sensitive to sensory input. For example “many people on the spectrum can be hypersensitive in some ways (can’t bear loud noise, for example), but ALSO hypo sensitive in other ways (need to feel motion or physical sensation in order to feel calm).” Some may be adverse to touch where others want to have big squishy hugs its not a one size fits all kind of scenario. In my experience my child if out and about cant take in when her names being called. This is due to her taking in all the small noises we don’t notice. It is competing sensory input with all the noises, then calling her name or asking a question she either dosen’t hear or cant process, between all the different noises her brain is trying to process. Some say in instances like this it is selective hearing in this case it is sensory overload which is very overwhelming and can cause meltdowns, stiming or for her to cover her ears.
Where can you get help for Sensory Processing disorder or sensory processing issues?
There are a few options. Working with an OT and psychologist can be very beneficial to have an individually targeted plan made for the person affected. Also having those around the child or adult taking note when the person is being affected and knowing the signs of raising anxiety due to the sensory sensitivity. Going to your doctor and talking about your symptoms will help as they can refer you to local specialists.
I have attached some helpful articles and a quiz below if you wish to do some further reading. Keep in mind both neuro diverse and nuero typcal people can be affected by sensory processing. So it can affect anyone of any gender, background and age.
Helpful articles : https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/sensory-processing-issues/sensory-overload-anxiety
Do you think you or your child may have SPD ? this questonaire may give you an idea on whether or not to get checked. I got 53% as I am sensitive to certain things.