Sensory overload: the inside story

Sensory overload: the inside story

As a neurotypical I am reliant on Peter and others to help me to understand the awesomeness of autism from the inside.  Aside from Peter, the person I learn the most from I ‘talk to’ nearly every day, care of social media.  Today’s lesson was amazing I felt the need to share…

“I wanted to tell you all something about sensory overload.

You know when you go out (even if it’s a distance memory) have a few too many drinks and have the best time?  You are laughing and joking all night?  Best night ever?
But the next day you can hardly move as you feel such a wreck (hungover).  

Well, it’s not so dissimilar to a sensory overload – you can have a great time at a nightclub, or at least for the first while until your brain reaches capacity.  Then bam, you can’t take anymore, but the night out maybe over now.  Whilst there everyone noted how much of a great time you had, they don’t see you afterwards.  And they don’t believe that same you could be writhing in pain unable to function afterwards.

Now imagine that nightclub becomes the dinner hall, the classroom, the playground and everyone comments how you were okay or, you didn’t use to mind – but now these things make you reach capacity.  Just like if you got drunk every night ???  

Eventually, you would stop going to them as often as you realise how bad you will feel afterwards.  You’d stop been able to manage day in day out…

Now how can I make that make sense ? 😀 some events can be quite good, but could only be managed very, very, occasionally.  Some a little more often and it could be worth it once in a while, but it would not work on a regular basis.  

With a hangover, everyone believes you: sometimes they have to justify by saying ‘well you did knock back the Vodka’ but they believe you as it matches their experience.🙂

Sadly with a sensory overload, you will often hear, ‘It wasn’t loud, busy, smelly.  It was fine ….. 😞 and you looked OK.”


My reflections on this:

Sadly, memories of going out are indeed a distant memory for me but I can remember the awfulness of a hangover!  My friend’s analogy is really helpful.

Using this analogy further, I see that some people will keep going back for more (alcohol overload…) and others prefer not to – or need longer gaps between indulging!  I wonder if this too can be translated to those who experience sensory overload: some children seem to be able to keep on going despite the frequent (sometimes extreme) suffering afterwards, others just can’t face it… the freeze and can’t leave their room/home.


What can we learn?

  • For me to think more carefully about the intensity of the experience of sensory overload and the price some people have to pay to experience everyday activities such as shopping, travelling, working and socialising.
  • To truly understand that no matter how ‘good’ the experience, the price some have to pay for enjoying it can just be too high.
  • That tolerance can vary, perhaps.  One day a person may be able to manage the overload of shopping with a friend, another they may just not be able to face it.  The dining hall may be manageable on a Monday when the teachers/lessons are ‘OK’ but not on a Thursday when not enough of the teachers are accommodating your needs: thereby reducing overall tolerance levels.
  • My friend has suggested that it would be helpful if her friends could notice if she is experiencing overload and protect her from more, by encouraging / helping her to move away from the situation…
  • Finally that we can all help by being more aware, by not expecting a person to justify why they feel the way they do and perhaps being more thoughtful and not adding to it (I know for sure, that Peter would love me NOT to ask him more than one question at a time…).

For more on sensory overload, see here.


2 thoughts on “Sensory overload: the inside story

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