As a parent with a child on the autism spectrum, you may have noticed that your child’s behavior changes drastically in response to certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises or bright lights. This is known as sensory overload, and it can be an overwhelming experience for you and your child.

Many parents feel they need help with how to help their child cope with sensory overload, but with the right knowledge, you can help your child lead a happier, more comfortable life.

In this post, we’ll explore sensory overload in autism, what causes it, how it can look, and steps you can take to reduce it.

What Is Sensory Overload in Autism?

Sensory overload is a condition that affects many individuals on the autism spectrum. In simple terms, it results from an overwhelming amount of sensory information that the brain receives.

So, when your child with autism experiences a bright light or loud noise, their brain cannot filter the incoming information properly, leading to a sensory overload.

child with autism

What Causes Sensory Overload in Autism?

The exact causes of sensory overload in autism are still being studied, but various factors contribute to this phenomenon.

Some common triggers include hypersensitivity to certain sensations, difficulty filtering out irrelevant sensory information, and challenges with sensory integration. It is important to note that sensory overload can vary from person to person, as each individual with autism has unique sensory profiles and sensitivities.

How Does Sensory Overload Look Like?

Visual Sensory Overload

Bright lights, excessive visual patterns, or crowded environments can overwhelm individuals with autism. They may struggle with focusing their attention or become easily distracted by visual stimuli.

Auditory Sensory Overload

Loud noises, background sounds, or sudden changes in sound levels can be distressing for individuals with autism. They may cover their ears, become anxious, or exhibit avoidance behaviors in noisy situations.

Tactile Sensory Overload

Certain textures, clothing materials, or physical contact may trigger discomfort or distress in individuals with autism. They might be sensitive to touch, avoid hugs or certain fabrics, or dislike specific tactile sensations.

Gustatory Sensory Overload

Some individuals with autism may have heightened sensitivity to taste, leading to aversions or preferences for specific food textures or flavors. They may struggle with eating various foods or have rigid eating habits.

Olfactory Sensory Overload

Strong smells, or overwhelming odors can be challenging for individuals with autism. They might find it difficult to tolerate certain scents or exhibit behaviors like covering their noses or avoiding specific environments.

How to Reduce Sensory Overload in Autism

Reducing sensory overload is crucial in helping individuals with autism navigate their surroundings more comfortably. Here are some strategies that can be beneficial:

1. Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment

Designate quiet spaces, minimize clutter, and adjust lighting and sound levels to create a calm and predictable environment for your child.

2. Use Visual Supports

Visual schedules, social stories, and visual cues can help individuals with autism understand and anticipate their daily routines, reducing anxiety and promoting self-regulation.

sensory playing

4. Implement Sensory Breaks

Encourage your child to take regular breaks in a quiet, calming area to relax and recharge. Providing sensory tools like fidget toys or headphones can also help them manage overwhelming sensory input.

5. Seek Professional Support

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can effectively reduce sensory overload and improve overall functioning. ABA therapists can provide individualized strategies and interventions tailored to your child’s needs.

Improving the Quality of Life for Autistic Children

At BM Behavioral Center, we understand the challenges of raising a child on the autism spectrum. Our mission is to give families the tools to help their children lead a happy, healthy life.

Our therapists have extensive experience working with children with autism, from teaching functional living skills to reducing sensory overload and other behavioral challenges.

If you are struggling to help your child cope with sensory overload or other challenges related to autism, we invite you to reach out to us. Together, we can work towards a brighter future for your family.