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What is sensory overload?

Many people on the Autistic spectrum can be overwhelmed in certain circumstances, usually where there is a high degree of stimulus visually or audibly. This can be especially difficult in social scenarios where both audio and visual stimulus can be high.

Sensory overload can also be triggered by touch and taste, though not as frequently and this can often be managed. This can be down to the textures of the clothing or texture and flavour of food that makes the individual uncomfortable or overwhelmed.

Autism is not a disease, disorder, or handicap. It simply means the brain processes things in a different way. To a certain degree it’s a bit like having two computers that take different approaches to breaking down information. While what is considered the “normal” brain may find social, loud events stimulating, the autistic brain tries to process too much in one go from too many sources all at the same time.

This can lead to sensory overload and the individual needs to separate themselves from the visual and / or audio stimulus. It can feel like a thousand bees are buzzing in your head or that you have been plugged into the main power grid. It is very tiring, draining and debilitating.

Using ear defenders can be a common way of dealing with loud events, whilst having breaks to go somewhere alone, quiet and perhaps darker is sometimes the best route for dealing with visual stimulus.

During sensory overload the individual may be more difficult to communicate with, act strangely, shout and scream or run out of the area. When all your senses are in overdrive it is understandable why. Particularly for children this experience can be very hard to cope with.

Where the autistic brain excels

Many on the autistic spectrum can carry out logical tasks, in depth analysis, data processing, mathematical problems and similar tasks faster and more efficiently than those with a “normal” brain. High functioning autistics often also have above average intelligence.

There have been many famous people with autism that have achieved great things, such as:

Albert Einstein - Scientist and Mathematician

Elon Musk - Entrepreneur

Anthony Hopkins - Actor

Tim Burton - Film Director

Bill Gates - Co-Founder of Microsoft

Bobby Fischer - Chess Grand Master

Picture of Albert Einstein

This is not to be confused with “Rain Man” who was depicted as a savant. Savants have very focused minds which narrows the field of interest and processing to very specific things. They can be capable of extremely fast and complex processing capabilities, although require assistance in many areas of their normal life, such as social circumstances, communicating, working, and looking after themselves. Savants can have extreme reactions to certain stimulus or circumstances because of this.

Nothing to be ashamed of

So having sensory overload is nothing to be ashamed of. If your friend, colleague, or family member struggles with this, please be patient and understanding. When you are struggling with something they excel in, you might find that is when they can help you.

Giving them space, understanding what triggers them can help you in your relationship. This does not mean avoiding things you enjoy but rather allowing them to prepare in advance.

If you are struggling speak to your doctor, occupational therapist or teacher about getting assessed for autism. You can find out more regarding autism and helpful links here

Financial Support

Don’t forget that Disability Support Project is a charity that can help you with any financial support you may need. We can help you apply for benefits and can provide assistance in managing your budgets. Contact our team for more information


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