Sensory overload is a common reality for many children and adults with autism. But sensory overload isn’t only experienced by those on the autistic spectrum. Everyone can, at different times in their life, experience sensory overload. However, those with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia are more likely to experience this.
The critical difference is that those with autism are likely to experience sensory overload at a more frequent rate and to higher levels of intensity. People can become overloaded anywhere, but the difference between the home and outside places is that you retain a level of control over your home. There are things you can change if you or your child are feeling overwhelmed.
Being aware of some common objects or places that can cause sensory overload in the home allows you to make pre-emptive changes and reduce distress.
What is sensory overload?
Sensory overload is a condition where your five senses take in more information than they can process.
Signs that you or a loved one are experiencing sensory overload may include:
- Restlessness or discomfort
- Lack of focus
- Anxiety or fear relating to your surroundings
- Physical movements, such as wanting to cover your ears
In order to reduce the likelihood of sensory overload at home, here are some things to look out for and potentially change.
Bathroom lights are notoriously bright. Unlike in other areas of the house, bathrooms often have bright, white lights without shades. Bright lights often set off sensory overload. Plus, when a loved one is already in a period of sensory overload, bright lights only make their symptoms worse.
Try changing the lights in your bathroom to dimmer bulbs. The softer light should help alleviate sensory issues. Alternatively, you could ensure that the lights in your bathroom have shades, just like you’d have in a living room. This can spread the light, rather than it being so direct.
Air-conditioning or fans can be a potential source of sensory overload difficulties. Air-conditioning units often create a level of noise. Often, difficulties arise from the continuous nature of this noise. Have you ever heard a low drone, and, once you’ve heard it, you can’t unhear it? Air-conditioning units often have this effect.
It’s difficult to solve this one. If you live in a hot climate, air-conditioning is key to your everyday life. The best thing to do is to contact an AC repair company to see if they can offer any strategies for reducing the noise levels.
A messy house can often cause sensory overload. Clutter and dirt can cause a lot of chaos in a home, which can be difficult to process. By keeping the house organized, those with autism or sensory challenges can know what to expect from the space and process their senses correctly.
Those with autism often thrive with a strong routine; think of your house in the same way. When it gets messy, it is ‘getting out of routine’ which can be distressing to your loved ones.
By keeping areas of your home that can cause sensory overload in check, you should be able to reduce barriers to your loved ones. Of course, you can’t control everything, and you won’t magically cure their sensory overload, but hopefully, you will be able to lighten their burden.
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