Adulting: Sensory Overload

This past week, I seen a post on Social Media by a fellow autism page that Sensory Overload does continue to adulthood. I am so proud that they have brought this up because I have been experiencing this quite a bit lately. I don’t know if it is the COVID or that I have been attending a lot of events lately where music is involved. Oftentimes, I feel as if this topic has to be an integral part of autism acceptance and awareness as if not properly managed by the autistic or it is managed with a unique coping mechanism, it can result in a perplexed perception of what an autistic person does.

Sensory overload doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy music or rocking out to a certain artist. This is very far from the truth. We just can’t do concerts in tight spaces; we may be able to do an open-air concert because we too like to jam. For example, the last few days when the day program ahs been open for social events, karaoke has been the principal activity, one day it was the sole activity. Sometimes the other participants were singing, other times not.  Sometimes, for me when you mix amateur singing with music it can start the sensory overload. Now, sometimes, there can be no singing and a song you enjoy, and you will rock out to it to your heart’s content. However, the second day at the day program they combined the singing activity with a game called cornhole where beanbags are tossed on wooden boards across a large room. This is a very piercing sound for me and I had to put my headset on for me.

Over the past few weeks, I have debated about buying large over the ear headphones. I thought they would look cumbersome on my head and make me look foolish. However, many today, autistic and neurotypical are wearing these devices. For the last decade or so, I purchased Bluetooth earbuds because my cell phone is not equipped with a headphone jack. I would overuse the headphones excessively, thus having a short life expectancy. Over the years, the price went up on these. I finally decided to buy the over-the-ear headset and couldn’t be much happier. They have a long battery life, the have a headphone jack if you need it and were priced lower than I originally thought. It was a win-win situation for me.

Most people I interact now because of the state of the world these days know that I have autism and what sensory overload is. I should not be ashamed to have to wear headphones in an environment that I already feel safe in. One of the basic understandings of autism is the hypersensitivity to noise and that by us wearing headphones is a coping mechanism. We have to adapt to the environments around us so that we do not go into meltdown or get edgy and can not adapt. Sometimes we have to mask and put our guard up in environments when we are expected to behave a appropriate way, when necessary  a slight accommodation of accepting our headphones or other noise-reducing device should be accepted and as long as is not a detriment to the safety and well being of an autistic, it should be permitted.

There is also a knowledge among many in the autism community that autistics cannot stand loud noises, yet we are the loudest person they know. This is because we have difficulty understanding when and where we are to dictate certain voice levels. Sometimes we as autistics have to vocally stim to cope with the environment around us too, and switching back and forth between noise levels can be sometimes difficult. For me, when I was in a residential treatment facility as a teenager when switched functions in the daily, we went over expectations of the function, which often included what noise level was expected. This helped somewhat, although I have to admit years after when something isn’t normal or when a trauma trigger appears, the voice can be elevated without me being aware.

We must continually be aware to the autism community as a whole not just a certain age group as children with autism do not magically grow out of it. We can adapt or gain skills to overcome these challenges, however we must understand that autism is a spectrum condition and each and every one us is unique in own way.

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