Sensory Overload and Autism

What is Sensory Overload?

Sensory overload happens when you’re receiving more input from your senses than your brain an organize and process. Too many noises, flashing lights, uncertain touch from a person or your clothing. Anyone can experience sensory overload; however, people with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder often have more sensitive responses to sensory input.

50,570 Sensory Stock Photos and Images - 123RF

Our senses relay information to our brain- things we see, things we hear, things we taste- and our brain processing this information and produces an appropriate response. We hear our name called, we respond. We taste something we don’t like, we spit it out. We see a bright light, we squint or close our eyes. When too much information is coming in at one time, or our brain can’t process the information properly, we are in a heightened state and our brain’s “fight or flight” mode wants to get away from the sensory input. 

Symptoms of Sensory Overload

According to healthline.com symptoms include:

  • difficulty focusing 
  • extreme irritability
  • restlessness 
  • urge to cover your ears or eyes from sensory input
  • feeling overly excited or “wound up”
  • stress, fear, or anxiety about your surroundings
  • higher levels than usual of sensitivity to textures, fabrics, clothing tags, or other things that may rub against skin
    Sensory Overload Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Holidays and Sensory Overload

How to Reduce Holiday Stress for Your Child With Autism | Performance Health

The holidays tends to be challenging for kids with Autism and Sensory Processing differences. Think about all of the people, songs, foods, and smells. It can all be too overwhelming. This is when we can see meltdowns, aggressive behaviors, withdraw, and/or hyperactivity. Try to keep as many things consistent as possible, limiting novel sensory experiences. Bring food to the party that you know they like, stick to familiar clothes, bring their calming tools, and keep it as simple as possible.

5 Calming Strategies for Sensory Overload

If your child tends to be hypersensitive to sensory input and becomes overstimulated, it is important to try to recognize their triggers so they can learn to recognize when their sensory system starts to become overwhelmed. Here are 5 strategies that will help set up a calming environment for your child. These are helpful to use as a proactive approach, embedded throughout your child’s day, as well as prior to any events you know are overstimulating to your child.

1. Noise canceling headphones- These headphones reduce auditory input, especially great for kids who are hypersensitive to sounds.
2. Weighted blanket or other weighted objects- weighted objects help calm and relax the nervous system.
3. Dim, quiet space with reduced visuals- a calm, confined space with limited sensory input.
1,484 Sensory Room Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from Dreamstime
4. Proprioceptive input- deep pressure/resistive input to the muscles joints such as bear hugs, yoga poses, joint compressions, pea pod- all of these are calming and organizing to the nervous system.
Harkla Harkla Hug
5. A calming fidget tool- Fidget tools such as theraputty or playdoh help calm the mind.
Activities to Help Kids Calm Down and Stay Calm - Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting

It’s always important to try to identify your child’s sensory preferences and build a calming space and find tools around these preferences. 


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