Coping with Overstimulation
One of the more commonly defined links to autism is the many differences in sensitivity to stimuli. There are some of us who experience extreme sensitivity to many things where other’s may experience varying levels of sensitivity to certain things like light, sound, temperature, textures, smells, movement and the like.
There are those who have heightened awareness of their surroundings, not notably uncomfortable for some, but may be over stimulating and even painful for others. I imagine for the NT brain the receiving of information is much less noticeable with little to no thought or even recognition of the process. But for those who are on the spectrum it is quite different. Information flows into the brain and is systematically compartmentalized into varying categories and subcategories. This can be felt. It’s like having a bunch of feelers with sensors shooting out from your body and the sensors are touching, feeling and absorbing information from everything, event the particles in the air. This is a constant sensation and can be quite distracting. It makes it difficult to focus, sleep or even be still.
Image what it feels like to receive input from everything around you at all times. Some of the input can come across as light and benign or disturbing, disruptive and even jagged like broken glass.
Humming or some other form of stemming behavior helps with the effects of overstimulation. It counteracts the discomforts of being overstimulated lending itself as a way to control informational flow. That way we are able to receive the flow of information and still be able to focus on an object, task or the sorting and purging of thoughts at the same time. When this happens it is as if the flow splits into conscious and unconscious. The unconscious flow is the constant and the conscious flow is merged into the constant, so one can put more focus on whatever one is consciously doing or experiencing with less distraction from the unconscious informational flow.
No matter what our cognitive ability or what level of functioning we are labled, our minds and bodies are always receiving information.
There are some of us who need physical help to calm from over stimulation like pressure applied to different areas of the body such as the arms, back, shoulders, base of neck and head. There are assistive technologies that can help with this such as weighted blankets, vests and bands. Bands are versatile because they can be placed on different body parts such as ankles, wrists or even worn as a headband. Some autistics may respond well to massage or brushing of the body or limbs. It all depends on the individuals need and what is most comfortable for them. Physical activity is another possible way to help like walking, stretching, jumping, running or carrying heavy items for short periods of time. All of these thing help to calm and center.
Lighting is also very important. It is crucial for me to be able to control lighting in my home because my sensitivity to light varies. I have also given this option to my son so he is able to control the lighting and light source in his room. He changes the lighting in his room several times a day depending on his need. He may start the day with curtains open. Natural light seem to help him be more alert. When he is settling into stemming mode he like a lessor light which he gets from a clip-on desk lamp. The lamp has an adjustable neck so he can angle it in any direction to get the desired amount of light. When we return from outings or when guests leave, my son likes to use either of his lava lamps which gives his room a worm amber or deep pink glow.
Sound is also something that can be soothing or excruciating. If silence does not seem to be calming and too many noises over stimulating you may want to experiment with other sounds such as a low snowy sound (like the sound made by old analog TVs when the station goes off) or perhaps the sound of slow flowing water. Music may be a little soothing. For some the sound of instrument and voice may be a bit much, so you may want to separate the two and try either all instrumental (one or more instruments) or a calm soft A Capella (one or more people singing).
I cannot speak for all of us. Each person is different and their experience is their own. I am one small voice on the spectrum.