Sensory overload what is it?

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 :

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.

[Self-Test] Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Adults

Do you know the signs?

Sometimes life throws you lemons and other times it throws random stuff at you like Viral Meningitis. Viral meningitis is an infection of the membranes (linings) that cover the brain and spinal cord.  I am slowly in recovery mode after getting sick very quickly last Tuesday. I woke up feeling like maybe I had slept funny with a sore neck and bit of  a headache. As the day progressed it got worse and I ended up getting taken up to hospital in agonising pain.

On the way to the hospital I remember being very scared as I felt something was very wrong. I had never had pain like that before. I thought maybe its a brain bleed or something of that severity. I’m a single mum so was worried if it was something really bad what would happen with my daughter. She is everything to me. I was worried as I don’t even have a will drawn up or anything in place for her if anything happens to me. It was a very confronting and eye-opening moment. Like a lot of people do I was catastrophising in the moment being struck down with such pain.

After being given painkillers to help with the pain the doctor started doing their assessment. Neck pain, head pain, fever, light sensitivity, nausea, lethargic, shaking. These were all the symptoms I had. After hearing the doctor list them out it hit me just as She said it, I had Meningitis. They ran blood work to check my white blood cells that were elevated as well as a few other items they checked to confirm. In my case it was Viral Menengitis which is one of the less dangerous strains. As I was so run down already it was a very painful and debilitating case. I was given a choice stay under observation and be uncomfortable or go home and ride it out as all that could be done is to give me strong painkillers to help with the pain. I chose to go home. I have never slept so much as I have the past week. I avoid taking painkillers at all costs but in this case I did and even strong painkillers the doctor prescribed only took the edge off the pain.

I have never known anyone that has had any kind of Meningitis all I have ever known is what I have seen on the news or stories online. It has never affected me or anyone I know. It scared the hell out of me. That week I went from not knowing anything about it to learning about some of the different strains and how it is spread. You can get viral meningitis by breathing in viral particles that have been sneezed or coughed into the air by another infected person. You can also become infected by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, or through contact with faeces (for example, by changing nappies) day care centers can be ripe with it and not even realise. Viral meningitis is easily spread from contaminated hands to your mouth. I also went from not knowing anyone affected to hearing of 2 other people through the grapevine that currently had it.

The point of this blog post is this could have been a very different story if it had been bacterial or one of the other deadly and more complicated strains. The doctor advised me of how Viral Meningitis is more common than we realise but a lot of people shrug it off as the flu. The severity if how it hits you depends on how well you are generally and if you are immunocompromised and/or run down. It isn’t always Viral though and Bacterial can be deadly. This is how people end up with complications as they shrug off symptoms until they are very severe or it comes on very fast. If you are feeling unwell follow your gut and see a doctor or go to hospital. If you are unsure of which depending on whats wrong there are great things like Health direct you can call for medical advise 24 hours a day.

After this scare and being informed by the doctor just how common it is becoming make sure you know the signs and difference between the flu and something more severe.

So know the signs :

  • fever
  • severe headache
  • drowsiness or confusion
  • nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting
  • neck stiffness
  • sensitivity to light

I hope that sharing this will help people be a bit more informed and conscious of this and even if it helps one person know the sings and get help for themself or a loved one my work here is done.

Thank you for reading