Help with sensory overstimulation



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Krista_The_Pixie
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Sat Mar 22, 2008 8:00 am

Hi, it's me again. I was going to wait around for a while while replies piled in for my earlier questions, but then something happened yesterday which I absolutely have to ask about. It's about my friend with Asperger's. He experienced some kind of sensory overload/ overstimulation episode yesterday and neither of us had any idea what to do about it. He knows he has AS but has no knowledge of the various coping skills he could develop. This is the first time he's talked with anybody about these things.

Basically, what happened is that we went to a Native American healing circle, where suddenly this very loud, insistent drumming began to occur. He loves drumming and drum circles, but this was not musical, it was just pounding. It started to make him feel dizzy and disoriented. We couldn't escape at the time. It ended, and then a woman who was trying to be helpful to us came up and asked how we were getting home (as we had come from about 45 mins away). Truth be told, I rely entirely on my Garmin GPS unit as I cannot really read maps, follow verbal or written instructions, or intuitively know my way from city to city. My friend Erik is the same. So we tried to tell her that we were just going to use this device of ours, which speaks driving instructions to us as we go. She, however, got more and more insistent about trying to give us driving directions. "Take 176 to 75 North, then just jump on 18 west to go to 375 east..." and she started asking us questions about the routes near where we live, and so on. It got very loud and aggravating, and the room was also very bright and crowded. We didn't have the answers to her road questions, and stared blankly at her. It got more and more horrible. She was getting so agitated about it and was practically screaming route names at us. When I tried to end the conversation by saying we'd just use our GPS, she yelled "shove that GPS up your @&%!"

We hadn't eaten anything since lunch, and it was 9 pm, so we grabbed some refreshments (cookies and chips) and tried to relax before heading home. I thought the episode would be pretty much over, but driving back, Erik kept talking about flashing lights and how the car headlights were bothering him. When I tried talking to him, he was unable to really finish a conversation and later said he felt like I was bombarding him with questions. (My bad.) So obviously he was overstimulated. When we got back to my house, he just wanted to lie down in the dark for a long time and then have dinner.

My questions to you guys are as follows:

1. When is this problem with sensory overload/ overstimulation more likely to occur? Are there certain triggers which can make him more susceptible to it? I'd read that hunger has something to do with it, and we hadn't had dinner that evening.

2. Assuming we're in a situation where we cannot escape, and this occurs, are there things we can do in order to lessen the problem? Say, if we're trapped in a concert hall or a room full of people, are there ways we can minimize the stress to him without making it obvious to others around?

3. Or... if it's okay for things to be obvious, what are some better ways to deal with this?

4. After escaping from the overstimulating situation, what things should I do to help him return to normal? What should I avoid doing? What are some things he can do for himself?

Any replies to this are of course appreciated! Thanks, as always for being there!



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Sat Mar 22, 2008 8:33 am

1. Each person with an ASD is different, but the causes are self-evident; in this incidence, it was the drumming noise, once something sets off a sensory reaction, things that wouldn't bother him/her start to bother him/her, and it'll continue to build and build until one hits "meltdown" or "shutdown". Some people have specific things that overwhelm them, others are overwhelmed by almost everything (the more severe the autism the more one is affected by the external environment). Just being around people does it for me.

2. Nope, it'll just get worst and worst until one can escape; sedatives can help, and I carry Diazepam around with me in my wallet when I cannot handle it any more (sedatives dampen the senses). However, it's best to stop talking to the individual when they're overwhelmed, trust me, it doesn't make us feel any better, which is contrary to "natural" help. Think of it as a migraine without the headache, but with greater sensitivity to stimuli.

3. Bristly walk away to a quiet place, a haven.

4. Leaving him be where he wants to be is the best thing; talking seemed to overwhelm him more, and when you think about it, it makes sense as processing speech isn't an easy thing to do, especially for those with an ASD (again, it probably feels natural to ask what's wrong, and then offer reassuring words, but these are just more water to the pot that's already boiled over). He'll calm down in time (minutes to...days); when he talks to you again on his own accord will probably be when he's over the acute effects.

The effects of being overwhelmed will probably stay with him for a while.



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Sat Mar 22, 2008 10:21 am

Overload typically for me usually happens as a result of a combination of things...there is really no "one" thing that triggers it some days. Loud music, noise, alot of movement around me, lights, traffic...a little like a snowball rolling down hill...it starts small, than just picks up speed and more snow.

It's not predictable...if I'm feeling bad, if I'm already stressed out about something, if I'm tired, or if I've just done too much that day I run the risk of overloading.

The only real cure is to remove yourself from the situation and recharge for awhile.

Sometimes that isn't possible though, or it isn't possible at the time you really need it because you're 20 miles from home.

Some things that help me:

1. Dress for comfort...if you're uncomfortable you are already stressed and that's one strike against you.

2. Don't over-schedule and avoid all-day events when possible. Too much....is just too much period.

3. I've found if I can shut off one of my senses...it makes it easier to cope. If you're at a noisy event with alot of people milling around...if you can sit and just shut your eyes to the movement or lights for awhile it helps...or carry earplugs or an MP3 player with some favorite music to block out some of the noise. The less you have to process the better.

The woman that tried to give you directions... :roll: Why do you always run into people like this when you're trying to escape? It's like they know you're bolting for the door and they run over to stop you. :lol: No seriously, make an excuse that you have to leave, tell them you already know what you're doing and be firm about it, walk away if need be....avoid the stress. At my age I value my sanity more than I value politeness anymore. Remember "self-preservation". :lol:


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Beenthere
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Sat Mar 22, 2008 10:33 am

One more thing...when I get like this I can seldom carry on a conversation...so don't take offense to this when he can't. He needs to communicate when this happens. My son is 9 and can endlessly ask questions for hours...but when mommy says she is "full" and needs some quiet time he understands. He compares me to a rechargeable battery...I last for a long time normally, but once I run out of juice I'm basically not good for much until I recharge. :lol:


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Sat Mar 22, 2008 12:18 pm

1. As someone said before, each person is different and will be sensitive to different things. The normal things are lights, loud or erratic sounds, lots of movement in the visual field, strong or annoying smells, irratants such as smoke, perfume, etc, and physical things like being touched or having something touch the body (people, clothing, wind).
Hunger most definatly can have an affect, as the body is less prepared to handle sensory stimulation when it needs food. Plus the feeling of being hungre can really irritate a person.

2. Close your eyes, cover your ears and try to get into the most comfortable position as possible. Anything that could stop sensory input from coming in could help. Doing something that you know is calming (stimming maybe?) will help a lot. Having something that calms you down (some sort of item), drinking tea, etc. Moving to quiet, dark places, with little activity is probably best but not always available.

3.Who cares if it's obvious? Let the people around you mind their own business. If they have a problem they can leave or ignore it.

4. Basically like the things above, just reducing sensory input as much as possible. Talking deep breathes, drinking tea, warm milk, etc. Laying down or in some other comfortable position.
AS for what to avoid, I'd say not touching him unless he requests, not talking too loudly or too much (though I'm sure that's a given), and listening as much as possible.


Overstimulation can be really stressful. Really the most that can be done is to grin and bear it ands try to get through it. It sucks for everyone, but sometimes there is not much one can do. I hope some of what I said helps.

Good luck!


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Krista_The_Pixie
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Sat Mar 22, 2008 11:20 pm

Thank you all so much!! ! This is all extremely helpful. Keep all the advice coming; it's very insightful! This is actually the first time we've experienced this together though I knew it would sometime occur based on what he'd told and what I've read. So when it did, I wasn't 100% sure what to do about it. Now I feel like I've got a much better handle on things!

Oh and as for why we had to run into someone like that lady, who knows?! Yes, it was the most inopportune time for her to appear. Actually I think she was quite loony as she got very irate about my use of a GPS, who knows why?

I don't know what stimming means yet but I'm going to go and look it up right now.

Thanks again for your support. If you've got more to add, please do!



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Sat Mar 22, 2008 11:28 pm

Krista_The_Pixie wrote:
My questions to you guys are as follows:

1. When is this problem with sensory overload/ overstimulation more likely to occur? Are there certain triggers which can make him more susceptible to it? I'd read that hunger has something to do with it, and we hadn't had dinner that evening.

2. Assuming we're in a situation where we cannot escape, and this occurs, are there things we can do in order to lessen the problem? Say, if we're trapped in a concert hall or a room full of people, are there ways we can minimize the stress to him without making it obvious to others around?

3. Or... if it's okay for things to be obvious, what are some better ways to deal with this?

4. After escaping from the overstimulating situation, what things should I do to help him return to normal? What should I avoid doing? What are some things he can do for himself?

Any replies to this are of course appreciated! Thanks, as always for being there!


1. I think the hunger issue is valid. if I do not need at a timely manner my ticks get worse than the norm to the point that I cannot function and if the situation persists I can have a meltdown.

2. not really know how to answer that, i usually try to avoid situations like that or i just turn around and burrow into my gf's arms or insist we leave no matter what.

3. not sure what to say for this either i dont know

4. let him find something that is comforting to him staying in the dark room for a while until his senses went back to normal was not a bad idea. i carry an mp3 player when i need to be on a vehicle to drown out all the external mix of sounds so that I do not get overly stimulated.

pixie:

Stimming is a jargon term for a particular form of stereotypy, a repetitive body movement (often done unconsciously) that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. It is shorthand for self-stimulation, and a stereotypy is referred to as stimming under the hypothesis that it has a function related to sensory input.[1] Stereotypy is one of the symptoms listed by the DSM IV for autism and is observed in about 10% of non-autistic young children. Many people with autism do not exhibit stereotypy. Common forms of stereotypy among people with autism include hand flapping, body spinning or rocking, lining up or spinning toys or other objects, echolalia, perseveration, and repeating rote phrases.

There are many theories about the function of stimming, and the reasons for its increased incidence in autistic people. For hyposensitive people, it may provide needed nervous system arousal, releasing beta-endorphins. For hypersensitive people, it may provide a "norming" effect, allowing the person to control a specific part of their sensorium, and is thus a soothing behavior.[2]



KimJ
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Sat Mar 22, 2008 11:38 pm

1. When is this problem with sensory overload/ overstimulation more likely to occur? Are there certain triggers which can make him more susceptible to it? I'd read that hunger has something to do with it, and we hadn't had dinner that evening.

I don't know where this was held but a lot of the Indian events I've been to are in public schools or gyms with flourescent lighting. I wouldn't necessarily fault the drumming if there were other things going on. I get overloaded on the less obvious stimuli, like machine humming, human chatter and lights. All things that we're conditioned to accept but may be unbearable for us.



2. Assuming we're in a situation where we cannot escape, and this occurs, are there things we can do in order to lessen the problem? Say, if we're trapped in a concert hall or a room full of people, are there ways we can minimize the stress to him without making it obvious to others around?
Don't force yourself to accept being trapped. Try to convince yourself that it's okay to walk away and take a break. Smokers do it all the time. Sometimes, if I'm literally stuck in the room, I focus on something and day dream.

3. Or... if it's okay for things to be obvious, what are some better ways to deal with this?

4. After escaping from the overstimulating situation, what things should I do to help him return to normal? What should I avoid doing? What are some things he can do for himself?
Quiet time

IN the case of the nosy Nelly, I would just try to get away from that nonsense ASAP. When my son had meltdowns as a toddler, all sorts of people want to get involved and tell you what his problem is. The person having the meltdown needs to be protected from that. I would just walk away if possible or turn my head.



Roseduelist
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Sun Mar 23, 2008 12:01 am

There is only one noise without a combination that brings me to an automatic melt down: Babies crying
If a baby cries i have to leave the area or i will scream...



Cuterebra
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Wed Mar 31, 2010 7:45 pm

I'm with you on that one. The sound of babies crying does me in if I can't get out of earshot within 10 seconds.



catlady2323
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Thu Apr 01, 2010 3:39 am

Hello,

I developed an analogy to explain my sensory sensitivities to others. It is kind of like I have a "sensory bladder" which gradually fills up throughout the day. Just like a regular bladder, it needs some relief, and sometimes when it is least convenient.

You know how you feel when your bladder is slightly full ? That uncomfortable feeling ? I get that uncomfortable feeling from sensory stimuli. The more I am exposed to, the more uncomfortable I feel, just like the more water you drink, the fuller your bladder becomes, and the more urgent the feeling you have of needing some relief. (Hence running to the bathroom !) I am the same way with loud noise, crowded environments, and very hot or very cold places. These things all fill my "sensory bladder" very fast. The only way I can get relief is to decompress by finding a quiet (preferably dark) place where I can be alone.

Decompressing can take from one hour, to an entire day for me.

You know how you (and everyone) has to include bathroom breaks in whatever you are doing? This is similar, only it is sensory stimuli breaks. If I am going to be someplace that I know will be noisy, busy, hot or cold, I plan on having someplace where I can "take breaks" (this is often the bathroom or my car!) so that I can decompress. When I have just reached my limit, I don't hesitate to tell people "I am sorry, I have to go now" .

Your friend has a limit on how much sensory stimuli he can be exposed to at one time, just like you have a bladder that has a limit on how much you can drink, before it fills up, and you must get to the bathroom for relief. Think of this the same way, when his "sensory bladder" gets full, his relief is a quiet place (no talking please) where he can give his brain time to decompress (although decompressing takes longer than a bathroom break). Just like you don't want people interrupting you while you are in the bathroom, this is the same. When I am decompressing I really need to be alone and have quiet (and preferably dark). When I feel better, then I will (without anyone asking me to) rejoin the "land of the living". Talking to us, actually makes decompressing take longer.

I always carry earplugs (-30dB) with me. When the noise is too loud, I put them in, or when I have reached my limit for all noise and am trying to decompress by limiting sensory input. So for instance I will wear them after leaving a noisy venue while driving home, just so I can begin the decompression process on the ride home. (If someone else is driving I will also close my eyes, and try to not talk).

Hope this helps. Your friend is lucky to have someone as thoughtful and kind as you seem to be.


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alana
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Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:18 am

some things that came up for me were: being in a crowd, not being the driver & in control of leaving/staying, being lost, empathing the emotions of stressed out people, the loudness ( I love drumming and drum circles but the other stuff would have bothered me.)

my feeling is the apsie has to learn what situations will stress them likely and try to avoid too many factors at once.



ASgirl
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Thu Apr 01, 2010 9:41 am

I have major sensory issues too, my total meltdowns freak people out, including some friends. I have been told on a Facebook forum that some special diets (no gluten, dairy, plenty of omega fish oils etc) help, but I have no luck with them. The problem gets worse as I get older. When I was younger, people are more accepting and they tolerate you more - now people stare and point and laugh and call me a mad woman when i freak out due to over stimulation. The only way is to stay at home for me. The things that trigger my overload (mainly visual ones like bright flowers, butterflies, certain patterns and shapes even) are everywhere, trust me, they seem everywhere to me when I am that scared of them. They give me phobic anxiety then is beyond my control. I cry and rock, with hands covering my ears and with my eyes shut. Nothing can calm me down until the stimulation is over/taken away. of course it helps if i was with someone i trust to tell me it will ok soon, but i can tell you that
this is no joking matter. I have adhd too, if i have just taken my medication (ritalin), i am slightly better. but only slightly.
To answer your questions:

1. When is this problem with sensory overload/ overstimulation more likely to occur? Are there certain triggers which can make him more susceptible to it? I'd read that hunger has something to do with it, and we hadn't had dinner that evening.

If I was tired or stressed out or exhausted from say socialising, I am worse if an overload happened. i don't know if tiredness etc actually trigger the overstimulation but i certain react more severly when it happens.

2. Assuming we're in a situation where we cannot escape, and this occurs, are there things we can do in order to lessen the problem? Say, if we're trapped in a concert hall or a room full of people, are there ways we can minimize the stress to him without making it obvious to others around?

if it was me, i'd like people to just let me cover my ears with my hand, squat/kneel/sit down/curl up and maybe scream or cry or ask when it's going to end etc. as said above, if someone could tell me it'll all be fine soon, then i become a little calmer. but don't come and touch me, i hate soft touches. holding me really firmly (not stroking but a strong hold) would sometimes be a good reassurance too.

3. Or... if it's okay for things to be obvious, what are some better ways to deal with this? as question 2.

4. After escaping from the overstimulating situation, what things should I do to help him return to normal? What should I avoid doing? What are some things he can do for himself?

i usually get over the whole episode pretty quickly once the stimulation is gone. sitting down in a quiet/familiar place for a hot drink will calm me down. if i am too exhausted then i'll try go to bed or just zone out. if it's the start of the day, i can normally continue as normal.



615AspieWife
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Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:52 pm

This thread is so helpful, the analogy of the full bladder is quite helpful in my NT obtuseness.

I stumbled upon this thread after an issue with my suspected Aspie husband yesterday.

He had been on a short trip to visit his sister. He called me from the airport to let me know the flight was on time. He seemed unreasonably agitated that I had not answered the phone the first several tries. (I was dining with friends.) He told me he was in the airport bar trying to watch the NFL game and trying to listen for his gate to be called. Don't know what I was thinking, because I've been with the man 4.5 years, but I tried to tell him that my father had been admitted to the hospital. His response was not appropriate to the news, he was on about the flight and the game etc.

Couple hours later, I picked him up from the airport. On the car ride home, I tried again to say "They put Dad in the hospital". Again his response was not acknowledging the news, so I said (impatiently, waving my hand in his face) "Are you getting this? Do you understand about my Dad?" he said "I can't really hear you."

I was in shock, this man can hear a cat walk through our yard, no joke! He can hear those teen ring tones that no one over 20 can hear. (he's 34) But he suddenly couldn't hear conversation in a moving car... Then he barely slept last night so it dawned on me that he was completely overstimulated, which I googled, and as I said the analogy of the full bladder is quite helpful.

Things like this made me think he was so inconsiderate in the beginning of our relationship. But the inconsiderate things didn't really mesh with his character and his sweetness and his devotion to me... After a few such misunderstandings, he admitted that he has always felt like he was "on the spectrum." We do not have a diagnosis, and I suspect we don't qualify for a diagnosis since he is quite high-functioning at work and socially. But many features of Asperger's are definitely obstacles for him.

Thanks all.



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Tue Jan 14, 2014 1:34 am

Krista_The_Pixie wrote:
My questions to you guys are as follows:

1. When is this problem with sensory overload/ overstimulation more likely to occur? Are there certain triggers which can make him more susceptible to it? I'd read that hunger has something to do with it, and we hadn't had dinner that evening.

2. Assuming we're in a situation where we cannot escape, and this occurs, are there things we can do in order to lessen the problem? Say, if we're trapped in a concert hall or a room full of people, are there ways we can minimize the stress to him without making it obvious to others around?

3. Or... if it's okay for things to be obvious, what are some better ways to deal with this?

4. After escaping from the overstimulating situation, what things should I do to help him return to normal? What should I avoid doing? What are some things he can do for himself?

Any replies to this are of course appreciated! Thanks, as always for being there!



1. Overstimulation is more likely to occur generally when: the aspie has been in a high-sensory environment for a long period of time, has been busy or otherwise unable to relax earlier in the day before arriving at a place with a lot of sensory input, the sensory input is one by which he/she is particularly strongly affected, or he/she emotionally aroused (positively or negatively). I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones I can think of at the moment.

2. Even when surrounded by other people, your friend can usually escape to a bathroom, or back to his car to "fetch something [he] forgot". To reduce the possibility of reaching sensory overload beforehand, sensory dampeners such as ear plugs, sunglasses or tinted glasses and vapo-rub under the nose for strong-smelling areas can be used to great effect, and can lengthen the amount of time it takes to reach sensory overload. Having a pre-designated word or expression to use to let you know he needs to leave can also be helpful; you can usually intervene with some excuse as to why you have to leave, such as, "Oh, can you help me with something?" or, "Hey, come see this cool thing I found," or even just, "I have to borrow [aspie] for a moment, we'll be right back." Keeping bigger or otherwise more physically awkward sensory aids such as a weighted blanket or vest, an eye mask, or more heavy-duty headphones in the back of the car can be good for emergencies too, especially if your friend finds himself in an unfit position to get himself home without winding down first and his friends can't take him because they have other activities planned for after the event you're currently attending.

3. It depends on the event how much help you can expect from others, however, if you're at a party at a friend's house for example, and that friend is aware of the aspie's condition, he can often ask if they'll dampen the sensory environment, e.g turn down the music or lights, or find him a secluded place to unwind for a while.

4. As for helping your friend after the fact, it depends on what he's like. When I reach sensory overload, I want to be left totally alone in my bedroom with the lights off, covered in my weighted blanket. At that point, any light or noise will only make things worse. Try not to talk to him if possible, and if you do have to, say it quietly, and in such a way that it doesn't require a complicated response; sometimes aspies find communicating in the midst of sensory overload to be overwhelming -- he may find writing easier. If you're in a public space, do your best to either get him home if you can, or, if it's too far or too soon to leave, find a quiet, dark spot to leave him alone for a while, though I would be within calling distance if he needs anything and to ensure that others don't encroach on his space. Locate this space when you first arrive so that it's there when you need it, rather than trying to hunt one down when it's already almost too late. If you can't find anywhere dark, bathrooms can work just as well as long as he has some way of blocking out the fluorescent light; hood, sunglasses, eye mask depending on the level of his need for dark. Depending on your friend's proprioceptive (pressure/contact) needs, he may find any extraneous touch from you or anyone else to be overwhelming, and it will add to his stress. On the other hand, he may be one who finds that high-pressure physical contact eases his symptoms, in which case giving a hard squeeze or keeping weighted sensory objects (blanket or vest are most common) in the car or somewhere else close by but unobvious can be very helpful. Don't be shy about asking your friend about his sensory needs; if he felt comfortable enough to disclose his diagnosis to you, he shouldn't have too much of a problem discussing the details of it with you. If he does seem embarrassed or doesn't want to talk about it, you can be surreptitious; at the next overwhelming gathering you attend, if he seems to be getting agitated you could always say, "It's stuffy in here, I'm going outside for a minute, want to come?" or bring two sets of earplugs, use one yourself, and say, "This music is really loud, I have some spare earplugs, want to borrow them?" etc. If his sensory issues make him feel ostracized, normalizing them can often help.

Anyway, sorry this post was so long, hope I helped a bit. Thank you for being such a good friend Krista, all aspies could use someone so understanding :)


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