Autistic View of How Sensory Overloads Feel

Bruegel d. Ä., Jan - Allegory of Sight and Sme...

Bruegel d. Ä., Jan – Allegory of Sight and Smell – 1618 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was just on facebook and this very interesting writing came up on my timeline. It is from Luke – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I know my Sarah goes through these same things. To hear Luke describe the feelings is really powerful. I have learned a lot!

Thank you Luke 🙂

Sensory Dispositions and Over-Loads

I have sensory Dispositions which can be very uncomfortable, painful, distressing and disorientating; I have learned many key skills over the years in managing my sensory issues, mainly avoidance. I will go on to explain how these heightened senses affect me in the worst case scenarios so that you may understand a little bit more what it is like to have these disorientating issues…

So what is a sensory over-load?
It is when our senses become over sensitive to the point of being disorientating, our hearing, touch, smell, taste and vision becomes intensified 50 times more stronger that normal. I am lucky as I don’t have a consistent sensory disposition like many although my senses are more heightened / sensitive than most, instead my sensory over-loads are induced by certain situations / environments, so therefore I can avoid certain situations and environments reducing the risk of these sensory over-loads most of the time.

Imagine there are 100 TV’s in a small room, each one of those TV’s is set to maximum volume, Now try to imagine all the TV’s are broadcasting the same show but at slightly different time intervals, you are unable to hear or listen to any of the words because the T.V sets are all slightly out of time which amalgamates all the sounds into one big noise. This creates a consistent noise within my head, I can feel it ringing and reverberating around my brain, even when I leave the situation I can still hear the noise left in my brain like an imprint that can last for hours after. Even the sounds of people rustling carrier bags in a shop can disorientate me. If you can, take hold of a really rustley carrier bag and hold it up to your ears so it is touching the ears and then rustle the bag, does it sound really loud and does it feel like the sound is scratching the inside of your ears, now add all the other noises and try to concentrate on a conversation, you may find it difficult and this is what it feels like to me during a sensory over-load but only much worse. It almost feels like a hundred fire alarms going off simmultainlesly and you are unable to escape the noise, which in turn will drive me to explosion within my head and body if I can’t escape the situation / environment.

During these times of heightened senses my sensation to touch can be immensely intensified, I can feel everything on and under my skin, I do not like to be touched during these times as it can be disorientating, upsetting and even painful. If someone were to grab my arm, go to cuddle me or even go to shake hands, I will step back and try to get away as it makes my head boil inside. When someone touches you, say with just one finger on the forearm for example, it feels like a shockwave travelling through my whole body which makes all my blood feel like it is boiling, It feels like someone is making a permanent imprint on your arm, you can feel it spread through your whole body at times like a constant fire burning under the skin, I can be left with an imprint on my body of someone’s touch which can last for hours, days and sometimes weeks and months. I find myself trying to brush off the sensation wiping my forearm with my hand and have even tried to wash the sensation away as it can be discomforting, I feel it under my skin like a scratch / itch I can’t quite reach. Imagine you are nice and relaxed, and then someone jumps out on you to scare you, your whole body feels a sensations of an uncomfortable itching / tingling for about a second or 2, now multiply that sensation by 50 with the notion that the sensation won’t go away, the sensation constantly stays with me for anything between 10 minutes too hours and sometimes days, Pain is also intensified dramatically during these spells of heightened sensory dispositions.

During these periods of heightened senses, my smell and taste become distorted and intensified as well, I cannot eat or drink during these times as everything can become too much. After sensory overloads have dissipated and worn of, I am unable to eat for hours and sometimes days after as a result. It almost feels like all my taste buds, digestions system and throat have to reset themselves before I can eat, more often than not, if I try to eat during these periods my body will reject food such as vomiting. It almost feels like eating rocks and acid at times and will often put me of certain foods for years if I try to eat them during a sensory overload as the tastes and smells can be very overpowering. Smell is also heightened by these sensory overloads, things I really enjoy smelling like strawberries, oranges lavender etc, become overwhelming. Even the slightest of smell in which people don’t notice will effect me, I will often smell bad things as well more so than normal during these periods. These smells make me feel claustrophobic, sick and even dizzy and feel I can’t escape them, you can feel it behind the nose and physically feel it in the brain and almost feel it on my skin. I smell things like peoples feet and odours, even when outside, smell the leather of peoples handbags, smell drains, gas, pollution, and what people have had for lunch etc, everything is intensified and inescapable. Try and imagine you are in a car with all the windows shut, the heating has been on full power for hours, and you find it hard to breath due to the lack of moisture in the air, you are gasping for breaths and can feel the back of your nose closing up, Now add the worst chemical smell you can think of that makes you feel dizzy and not being able to escape from it, that is almost what it can feel like.

My Vision can be impaired dramatically when having a sensory over-load, it is very disorientating and uncomfortable. My vision is impaired in several key ways such as, the intensity of light and the movement of things around me. With the intensity of light factor, everything becomes so much brighter and it feels like the light is penetrating through your eye’s and shining on your brain, it feels like someone has a magnifying glass up to your eye burning and scolding the inside of my brain, it literally feels like my brain is burning. Imagine it is the sunniest day you can imagine, very dry, bright and no place for shade, you are strapped to a seat pointing directly towards the sun, your eyes are streaming and sore due to the intensity of light and the wind blowing in your eyes but can find no refuge from these elements, now multiply that by 10 and that is a rough idea of how it feels, minus the burning sensation in the brain of course. Flashing lights etc, also can disorientate me as you can imagine. Also with vision, I have an issue with things moving around me as do many others on the spectrum. Cars driving past, people walking by, and things going past me as I walk by and even something minor like a laser dot moving on a wall. These movements can make me feel dizzy and sick and can often leave my whole body feeling discomforted. During these heightened senses, when people walk by, it seems like they are walking past a millions miles an hour but it seems to last for ages like time stands still while they are still appearing to move really fast. It almost feels like vertigo. Imagine you are on a roundabout being spun around really fast and you then go dizzy, it makes you feel sick and you can’t focus on anything. This is almost how it feels during a sensory overload with movement of light, the only difference is that I don’t get a spinning round and round sensation unless the object is spinning or I am spinning, instead the motions is in the direction of what the object is moving, for instance; if someone is walking towards me it seems really distorted, out of focus and looks like trails due to fast movement even though they may be moving slowly in reality, every movement can also feel imbedded in the brain like someone is scratching / tracing it in your brain with a blunt object. In a basic term try and imagine, when you get off the round about you are still affected by it for a few minutes and struggle to gain focus, balance etc, It is almost like the same thing when I see someone or something travel past me, The movement makes my brain go dizzy in the same direction from whatever the original movement travels, this feeling of motion / movement imprints on the brain and can often leave me disorientated for hours and sometimes days as it feels like it is embedded in my brain.

Causes and Consequences,
There are many different environmental factors that can cause a sensory overload, some may seem trivial to many but can affect me and many others dramatically. If I am in a noisy environment, if I am in a busy environment, if I am in a brightly illuminated environment, if I am in an environment with strong smell etc. basically if any of my senses are over stimulated I can fall into a sensory overload. Other ways sensory over-loads can be induced are, trying to keep a conversation going, listening to people talk whilst trying to follow conversations and instructions, trying to keep eye contact for to long, stress and anxiety, doing things I am uncomfortable with, re-call memory, thoughts that don’t sit right in my head, upset and torment, worry and even uncompleted task as well as many other different key environmental factors. If I don’t find a quiet place to relax, desensitise and decompress, I will end up breaking into a meltdown which feels like a fire spreading through your brain and body waiting to explode at any given minute. After a meltdown the sensory dispositions will last longer than they otherwise would if I took myself away from the situation to prevent them in the first place. A melt down will prolong the effects of a sensory over-load so to speak. In worst case scenario of having a sensory overload whilst not being able to escape that environment / situation can induce an epileptic fits, epileptic fits and sensory over-loads are very closely linked together and often go hand in hand. After I have had sensory over-load, I may feel very tired, lack of energy, depressed, confused and even on occasions over active such as hyperactive.

As I have grown older I have learned to notice subtle indicators that I am about to have a sensory over-load, when I notice these changes I will take myself away from the situation and decompress, the earlier I manage to catch it, the quicker it is for me to reset my brain. Normally when I catch it early enough it may take anything between 10-30 minutes to be feeling ok again, if I leave it for two long it can take hours for my brain to reset back to its normal state of awareness. I have learned over the years what effects me most, so I avoid most of those situations if I can as a preventative. Prevention I have found to be the best strategy so far, I find I can sometimes recover quicker if I am lying down and staring at a gentle colour changing light such as colour changing led eggs in which you can buy on e-bay

Many Individuals on the spectrum will have these sensory overloads 24/7, it really is hard enough coping with them even though mine are not 24/7, although they can be induced 24/7 so to speak. Some individuals are consistently in a state of a sensory overload from which they cannot escape, I am lucky because often I can choose to leave or avoid situations that can sometimes prevent them, but many people do not have that option.

Regards; ♥ Luke ♥



3 thoughts on “Autistic View of How Sensory Overloads Feel

  1. Pingback: Autistic View of How Sensory Overloads Feel | Sarah's Voice

  2. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say
    that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

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