What NTs Don’t Understand About Sensory Overload

I haven’t been feeling well the last two days. Time for one of my rant posts.

Read about this stuff under the cut...

Yes… because my irritation is totally intense.

Sensory overload (sometimes abbreviated to SO), related to Cognitive load in general, is a condition where one or more of the senses are strained and it becomes difficult to focus on the task at hand. The term is commonly (but not exclusively) used in the context of autistic spectrum disorders.  The most common type occurs when more than one sense is stimulated. For example, a person might be watching television when someone comes in and asks a question; the watcher might fail to respond because he or she simply does not register it, or realizes the question has been asked but gets confused and doesn’t know whether to answer the question or concentrate on the television. -Abbreviated from Wikipedia

So, that is the official definition of Sensory Overload. But it also doesn’t list many different outcomes to the senses being overloaded. It’s different for everyone. On a day-to-day basis I experience the things described at the end of the paragraph. That’s normal for me, and I have a nickname, “goldfish”, which my family uses to describe me suddenly going “huh, what?” almost a minute after they’ve asked me a question. But when I’m close to a meltdown and/or experiencing an extra ordinary amount of sensory overload, I get irritated at the slightest touch, the slightest interruption to what I’m doing. If someone moves the chair I’m sitting on, even if it’s just a nudge, I will leap out of it. During this time, I do indeed have the memory of a goldfish, because my head gets filled up with things so quickly that the memory gets lost in all that.

Dude... help.

Some autistics get Sensory Overload to the point where they start having hallucinations – seeing things, hearing things, feeling things. Others get a complete physical and mental shutdown. I have experienced only one of these in the past – after the 2011 Canada day fireworks, where I felt like I was drunk (without the giddiness), was twitching, could not understand what people were saying, had no balance, ect.. My father had to haul me back to the car, where I passed out, regained consciousness, and then self medicated. That was what happened to me when all my senses were bombarded at once. It was the result of the end of the fireworks – the bright lights, the crowd cheering, and the bang of the fireworks all at once.

This is why I have an item that is very useful and important to me – my iPod. Through my iPod, I can turn on music, close my eyes, and hear nothing but my music. This helps return me to good function, although I cannot focus on anything else during this time. Other people with Autism Spectrum disorders may have items that help them to this effect as well.

The true savior has come home.

What I mean is this – sensory wise, my life is never “boring”. When someone smells the wind, I smell the garbage, the house, the grass, myself, the scent of my jacket (fabric scent), the scent of my dog, and many other things that make it impossible to distinguish. If the television is on its likely I will have a delay, or be unable to respond to you at all, because the sound fills my head. If I am extremely focused on an activity – say, my writing – and my chair starts to move, I will feel a sudden rush of irritation because I can no longer concentrate.

This is common among those with Autism Spectrum disorders. I’m not shooting completely in the dark here. It’s also one of the things that helps confuse doctors into misdiagnosing people with Asperger’s with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

"What to focus on?" No. "Why is this all hitting me at once?!" Yeah.

Living in a bubble would not be “boring”. It would be a relief. Of course, not forever, but maybe just for a while.


One thought on “What NTs Don’t Understand About Sensory Overload

  1. Very good post about sensory overload and how it affects you. I can see why being in the bubble would not be boring but as a way to heal. Of course not forever, it would be boring once it served its function. :)

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