Signs of Sensory Overload and How to Help

December 28, 2020 10:25 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Sensory Overload
During the holiday season, sensory overload may become an issue for many individuals with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder to name a few. Sensory overload may also occur at other times of the year when loud sounds, bright lights, and strong odors become too overwhelming, but the holiday season typically has an overabundance in these sensory inputs. Sensory overload occurs when one or more of an individual’s senses become overwhelmed by the environment which makes it difficult for their brain to process and cope with what is happening around them. It has been reported that one in six children have some sort of sensory processing issue, which makes the need to know how to handle and prevent sensory overload all the more important. The increase in holiday lights, scents, decorations, sounds, and even being around more people may be too much for these individuals to process all at once especially if all of these sensory experiences are occurring simultaneously like they typically do during this time of year. Children with autism may become very uncomfortable and irritable in high sensory situations but may not have the ability to let you know how they feel or to communicate their wants and needs. Sensory overload may exacerbate this by blocking their ability to communicate even if they typically have the ability to in other situations if their senses are too overwhelmed.

In order to attempt to cope with their overloaded senses, children may engage in certain behaviors that may suggest that they are dealing with sensory overload. A child may become overly sensitive to sensory stimulation around them by having a greater reaction to sensory stimulation that is tolerable to most others. A child may also display a lack of sensitivity to sensory stimulation around them by not responding to others around them as they typically would, such as responding to their name being called. The following are some possible signs that your child may be experiencing or on the brink of sensory overload:

  • Have difficulty focusing or listening in a high sensory environment.
  • May run away from specific situations or environments without regard for their own safety.
  • May cover their ears or eyes or close their eyes when in certain environments.
  • May touch items around them or grab items more so than normal.
  • May show an increase in putting items in their mouth.
  • May be highly distracted which may lead to crashing into other people and things or not paying attention to their surroundings.
  • May become highly irritable or, on the flip side, highly excitable.
  • Showing signs of discomfort in environments that have more sensory stimulations than others.
  • Increase in sensitivity to clothing or certain textures.
  • Avoidance of specific places or situations.
  • Crying when entering or while in specific situations or environments.

Now that you know some of the signs that sensory overload may be occurring or about to occur, you can try to figure out the best way to help your child. Making note of these situations, environments, or activities can help prepare you and your child for an upcoming sensory event. There are several ways that you can attempt to prevent sensory overload from occurring or to help limit its impacts. Being proactive when it comes to your child’s sensory issues by knowing their sensory triggers will keep your child from experiencing the discomfort of sensory overload or at least help decrease their overall discomfort. Here are some ways that sensory overload can be prevented and or minimized:

  • Offering your child noise canceling headphones before going into an environment that may loud or having the headphones available for them if an environment becomes too overwhelming loud for them.
  • If light sensitivity is an issue, offer your child sunglasses before going into an environment that may have an abundance of lights or flashing lights. Have sunglasses on hand if an environment becomes too overwhelming or you notice your child becoming uncomfortable with the lights.
  • Keep a journal of known activities, situations, environments, and locations that typically trigger your child’s sensory issues.
  • Try to avoid going places that are known to cause sensory overload and opt for places and activities that are more sensitive to children with sensory issues.
  • Give your child choices of activities and places to go.
  • Prepare them beforehand. Talk with your child about places they are going or read them a story about what is going to happen when they go somewhere that may have a high sensory level.
  • Talk to your child in a calm and quiet voice to prevent any further sensory overstimulation.
  • In locations where sensory input can be controlled, ask others to turn down lights, music, or talk with quieter voices to decrease sensory levels.
  • Have a place in mind that you can take your child for a break from sensory stimulation if they are becoming to overwhelmed by high sensory environments.

Sensory overload can be difficult for children and families during the holiday season and year-round, especially in crowded places. Many cities and businesses have sensory friendly activities or events that occur year-round as well as during the holidays which may be a good option for children with autism and other sensory issues. Looking into these events and activities in your city can help your child experience activities and events that they may not typically get to experience, which can open the door for new family outings.

Many businesses have a sensory-friendly day each week or once a month where individuals with sensory issues can experience the fun without being triggered by loud noises, harsh smells, or bright lights that may typically cause sensory overload. Here are some links for some sensory-friendly places to take your children during the holiday season as well as year-round that are in the Tampa Bay area:

https://www.wfla.com/news/local-news/8-sensory-friendly-things-to-do-in-tampa-bay-for-kids-with-autism/
https://fun4tampakids.com/Programs-Classes/Special-Needs-Enrichment/
https://www.werockthespectrumtampa.com/

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