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1. Sensory Sensitivity and Overwhelming Inputs

Our sensory system serves as a gateway to the world around us, from the warmth of sunlight to the echo of bustling streets. However, for some, specific stimuli can escalate from being mere distractions to profound sources of distress.

Understanding Sensory Overload

Many people occasionally find the sudden blare of a car horn or the glare of overhead lights jarring. But for individuals, particularly those on the autism spectrum, these aren’t just sporadic irritants—they can feel like a relentless barrage. This heightened sensitivity stems from the unique ways their nervous systems interpret sensory signals. It’s as if they’re caught in a storm where every sensory droplet is amplified.

Why It Happens

Our brain has a sophisticated mechanism—the sensory filter—which typically allows us to tune out the ambient hum of a fridge or the subtle sensation of our clothing. However, for those with autism, this filter might not always perform efficiently, leading to what’s perceived as sensory inundation.

Supporting Ourselves and Others with Sensory Sensitivities

Supporting someone, or even ourselves, with heightened sensory sensitivities involves a combination of understanding, empathy, and adaptability. Recognising that the experience of the world is intensified, not diminished, is the first step. For ourselves, it’s about finding coping mechanisms, seeking understanding, and advocating for our needs. For others, simple gestures can make all the difference: turning down music, avoiding strong scents, or being patient when sensory overload occurs. Taking time to listen, learning about specific triggers, and making slight adjustments in daily routines can create a more inclusive and comforting environment.

Practical Steps to Manage Sensory Overload

  • Identify Triggers: Recognise what sensory stimuli cause discomfort. This awareness is the first step to develop coping strategies.
  • Safe Spaces: Create or identify quiet places to retreat to when feeling overwhelmed. Read more about it in Living Skills.
  • Supportive Accesories: Consider items like noise-cancelling headphones or sunglasses to shield from auditory or visual triggers.
  • Open Communication: Foster an environment where one can freely communicate their sensory needs. Dive deeper into effective communication in Conversations and Connections.

Examples

  • Visual Overload: While shopping in a brightly lit store, someone could wear tinted glasses or a cap to reduce the impact of fluorescent lights. Check more on managing visual stimuli at Understanding Visual Information.
  • Auditory Overload: In crowded or noisy places, using noise-cancelling headphones can be a game-changer. Learn about coping in such environments in Navigating Crowded Settings.
  • Tactile Overload: Choosing soft, seamless clothing can make a world of difference. Explore more about tactile sensitivities at Understanding Textures.

Daily Change Summary

Sensory sensitivities can undeniably be hard and at times overwhelming. However, with understanding, acceptance, mutual support, and effective strategies, they can be navigated better. For individuals with autism,  a world buzzing with stimuli demands tenacity and adaptability. Through understanding and adjustments, we can co-create spaces where everyone feels a sense of belonging and comfort and comminicate our needs when things create overwhelm.

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