When it comes to Neurodiversity there is much more than meets the eye. Neurodiversity ranges from Autism to ADHD to OCD with more in between. One symptom that is common in those who struggle with certain types of Neurodiversity is Sensory Overload. Sensory Overload occurs when one or more of the five senses which are sight, hearing, scent, touch, and taste, become overstimulated. Sensory Overload can happen to anyone but is very common in Neurodivergent individuals.
Every individual with Sensory Overload will experience it in different ways. Some people may have symptoms that are so severe that they have difficulties accomplishing everyday tasks, while others will have very mild symptoms that cause only very minor difficulties and they can carry on with their day without issue.
What may sound to a Neurotypical person like a tiny ticking of the clock in the background can cause Neurodivergent people physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and vomiting, as well as severe emotional distress.
Symptoms of Sensory Overload
The symptoms associated with Sensory Overload may vary from person to person, but there are some tell-tale signs suggesting that Sensory Overload might be what you are dealing with if you are otherwise unsure. When experiencing Sensory Overload a person does not have to experience it with all of their senses for it to be real. Some people may only experience visual overload while others might only experience auditory overload. Here are a few things to look out for when you are unsure whether or not it is Sensory Overload you are dealing with.
A panic attack is a sudden overwhelming sense of fear that can trigger intense mental and physical reactions even when there is no apparent reason for it. Some people experience panic attacks so severe that they confuse them for something as serious as a heart attack.
Anxiety is defined as the anticipation of future worry. Muscle tension and avoidance behavior are commonly tied in with anxiety.
Agitation is a feeling that one might experience that causes restlessness, frustration, annoyance, and/or inner tension.
When a person is experiencing Sensory Overload, it is not uncommon for them to also experience difficulties sleeping. It is hard for the body and mind to rest at night when it has been wound so tightly with things like anxiety or agitation due to overstimulation.
Tantrums (Mainly in Children)
Nonverbal Neurodivergent people or young Neurodiverse children can experience Sensory Overload meltdowns that some parents may view as a tantrum.
Examples of Sensory Overload
Many different things might lead to Sensory Overload involving one or more of the five senses, here are some examples of Sensory Overload for each.
The physical feeling of certain things may set off Sensory Overload when it comes to touch. Some fabrics for example might be very soft and comfortable to some, but to somebody experiencing Sensory Overload, that same fabric could very well feel uncomfortable and cause irritability or even a sense of pain.
Sensory Overload regarding taste can be triggered by the temperature or the flavor of a food or drink. Food that is too hot or too cold could very easily be overwhelming to a person with Sensory Overload. Another thing that can be overwhelming is food that is too spicy or has too much seasoning in it.
What may smell very nice or faint to a person who is not struggling with Sensory Overload could very easily overstimulate the scent of someone who is. An example of something that can cause Sensory Overload involving smell is perfume. Perfume might be lovely, and to most smell very warm and alluring, while to those with Sensory Overload issues, the scent may be significantly stronger and can even cause reactions such as nausea or dizziness.
A person might experience Sensory Overload when they are hearing too many different noises at the same time, for instance, some may find themselves becoming overwhelmed and developing headaches or high levels of anxiety when they are in a crowded room with different conversations at different noise levels happening simultaneously. Another auditory example of Sensory Overload could be loud music. While some people enjoy the sound of loud music blasting over the speakers, a person who struggles with Sensory Overload could be overstimulated very easily by it.
Many people have difficulties processing lights that are too bright or flashing, or colors that are too intense or bunched together, so you can imagine how overstimulating it can be for those who struggle with Sensory Overload. Words bleeding together on a bright screen may also cause Sensory Overload in some.
How is Sensory Overload Diagnosed?
Sensory Overload is normally diagnosed using one or both of two methods, Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) and the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) checklist.
Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)
The Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests are a clinician-administered, norm-referenced series of tests designed to measure the sensory integration processes that underlie learning and behavior among children 4 years through 8 years, 11 months.
Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) checklist.
The Sensory Processing Measure Checklist is a large checklist that breaks down sensory behaviors and evaluates whether they are being over-processed or under-processed by the individual.
Sensory Overload in Children
It is no secret to anybody that when it comes to children, parents need to have a lot of patience. It can be overwhelming and frustrating enough to work with children who do not struggle with Sensory Overload, so one can only imagine the added difficulty that seems to coincide with these struggles. One thing parents and teachers need to remember when it comes to young children is that what may appear to be a meaningless tantrum could very well be a child having a tough time processing their surroundings. It is important to always speak to children in a calm and soothing tone to help them relax and get to the bottom of the underlying issue.
Adults who struggle with Sensory Overload know how challenging it can be to deal with overstimulation of the senses, so imagine how scary it must be for a child who is not aware of the causes of their reaction to certain sounds, images, smells, and other senses. Children may react to Sensory Overload by screaming, crying, or becoming aggressive and in these situations, the adults need to take a deep breath and remember always to approach the situation as calmly as possible. Children struggling with Sensory Overload, particularly those who are Neurodivergent need as much support as they can get from those around them to make sure they can learn and grow without feeling as if they are different or there is something wrong with them.
You are not alone
Just like Neurodiversity, living with Sensory Overload can feel challenging to you or your loved ones. It is important to remember that you are not alone. There are many people out there who go through these struggles and that does not make them different and is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Neurodiversity is beautiful and Sensory Overload does not mean that a person experiences different things than those without it, they just experience things in their way. Always remember that there are resources out there to help you navigate through your Neurodivergent journey and you should never be afraid to reach out. This is where Theara comes in.
Theara and Sensory Overload
Theara was built to support Neurodivergent people, including people who struggle with Sensory Overload. We have several life hacks, resources, and blogs to support people with Sensory Overload as they navigate their Neurodivergent life.
We also specifically crafted the Theara Academy.
The Theara Academy
Theara has created a community and resource hub for all Neurodivergent people, what Theara refers to as the Neurodiverse Collective. We created an innovative acronym-based digital training to ensure Neurodivergent live fulfilling and rewarding lives where they reach their goals, maintain meaningful relationships, and embrace who they truly are.
Here at Theara, we have 4 unique courses to support Neurodivergent people.
Know the Way at Home is a resource for parents of Neurodivergent children.
Know the Way at School is a resource for parents, teachers, and educators to navigate the Neurodivergent academic journey.
Know the Way at Work is a resource for employers, business owners, and HR representatives wanting to create a more inclusive and accommodating workplace for their Neurodivergent staff.
E.M.E.R.G.E. ND is for people wanting to remove the mask, heal the trauma and grief, reach their goals, and navigate their Neurodiversity.
Each course is tailored to a different stage of the Neurodivergent experience. Whether you’re a parent seeking to support your child, an educator wanting a more inclusive classroom, an employer ready to create a more diverse workforce, or a Neurodiverse person wanting to be themselves, then we have a course for you.
Let’s build a bridge to a brighter future,