When should sensory overload be suspected in an autistic person when its signs are subtle? (Opinion)

If you’re aware of sensory overload, you’ll know when when you need to prevent it.

When sensory overload is suspected, the person can experiment with ways of preventing it such as using hearing protection.

I’ve started trying hearing protection in noisy places. I feel that it’s beneficial. I often feel the need for dual protection. Disposable earplugs seem to be better than reusable ones when there’s vibrations. Sometimes I need to alternate earmuffs and ear plugs because my ears and face get sore. I also tried Airstremz for cycling to reduce the wind noise.

 

According to one of Willow Hope’s video, it’s possible to be affected by quiet sources of sounds. With autism, background sounds can seem as loud as foreground sounds.

That’s why I think awareness is important even when it’s subtle, when the person thinks he’s used to loud places, or when the person is considered high functioning. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility of sensory overload just because we don’t see severe symptoms.

Since some people’s symptoms are more subtle, I recommend experimenting with hearing protection even for sounds that we don’t notice such as cafeterias, classrooms, restaurants, electrical hums, fans, ventilation systems, heaters, computers, washing machines, running water, conversations, TV’s, radios, wind, and refrigerators.

If they’re subtle or the baseline symptoms are forgotten, you might not be able to detect it by asking question such as “is the place too loud?”, or “how are you feeling?”.

The symptoms to look for include:

  • Impaired short term memory. The autistic person may find it harder to remember even short lists of items. This can make it easy to lose things. For example, forgetting to take the items you bought at a store. For some tasks, there may be a need to take notes when other people don’t do it. Playing a dual N-back game can test the person’s short term memory. At baseline, the person may be able to play a higher level than with sensory overload. The game can be downloaded on smartphones.
  • Things feel unreal like in a dream.
  • Senses fade which can make sounds seem faint. Listening to a ring tone may detect it. If it feels easy to miss it, there’s probably sensory overload
  • Decreased productivity. If other students or co-workers work faster than the autistic person, sensory overload prevention should be experimented. If his performance improves, there was probably sensory overload. This may be mistaken as a lack of skills or an inability to learn.
  • Slower reaction times. The person may longer to respond to questions or miss it.
  • Fidgeting. It’s possible for the person to suppress it when they’re aware of it because of the need to look non-autistic.
  • Loss of interest.
  • The need to recover.

Once sensory overload is suspected, it’s time to avoid it.

From the symptoms above, you may see why it’s hard to detect sensory overload in some people. The autistic person may be used to the symptoms and observers may misinterpret them.

It’s hard for me to tell if a place is too loud maybe because I have difficulty judging the volume of the environment. That’s why I need to be reminded to change the volume of my voice when the environment becomes louder or softer.

I notice that some people smile when they see me with earmuffs.

This is an opinion. I’m still experimenting with preventing overload.

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