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Sensory Overload

Bright fluorescent lights, sharp car horns, sounds of conversations, scratchy tags, stiff jeans, mixture of scents in the air can all be triggers of a sensory overload. Here is a video by “Interacting With Autism” (2013) that illustrates what sensory overload is like.  According to, sensory overload is a result of the brain having an overload of input from the 5 senses (2018). Sensory overload in the brain can be compared to a computer short circuiting while trying to simultaneously download, browse, and interpret information. This short circuit and inability to process one’s environment often lead to a fight or flight response. Sensory overload is common for individuals on the Autism Spectrum, people with anxiety disorders, and people with other neurological conditions. 

Recognizing what sensations and environmental factors trigger a sensory overload can be helpful when working to prevent or deescalate from a sensory overload. With this being said, it is likely inevitable that no matter what precautions are put in place, one will still experience sensory overload. This is because our world is variable and full of incoming data our brains have to process from multiple sources. It is critical to be able to cope with and deescalate from a sensory overload before it reaches a point where it affects one’s livelihood or function in daily life.

Below are some strategies that may help stop or reduce the effects of sensory overload.

These strategies can ground you in the height of a sensory overload and help your body determine its position in space, often called proprioceptive input or haptic feedback. In addition, some of these strategies reduce the sensory input so that your body can regain a clearer focus of the environment. Once the brain is out of fight or flight, awareness of the external environment and stillness can occur, which is optimal for learning and life functioning.  

Note: If you are in a public area, it may be beneficial to excuse yourself and go to a private location such as a bathroom or quiet, low lit room. 

No Equipment

Wall push ups

Hand squeezes (clasp hands together and squeeze for 10 seconds)

Jumping Jacks

Self Hugs

Access to Equipment

Use a weighted blanket

Brush a sensory brush on palms of hands

Put on noise cancelling headphones

Using the above strategies can help stop or reduce the effects of sensory overload before it reaches a heightened point. These strategies are useful in an educational setting as well as in the workplace.

Do you need more tips on how to recognize the triggers and scenarios of a sensory overload and appropriate strategies for your life? If so, click here to book a consultation with clinician, Danielle Feerst, OTR/L.

Written by Madison Gies, Summer 2020 Intern

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