In the past, I didn’t get much accommodations for sensory overload because I wasn’t really aware of the need.
I missed the pattern between noise levels and difficulty concentrating. I tend to think that there’s other causes. Noise sources during college include vehicle cabins even with the windows closed while commuting, traffic, crowds, music, wind, cafeterias, hallways, computers, ring tones, other equipment, air vents, and classrooms.
I didn’t think of getting hearing protection. Even non-autistic people can be distracted by noise.
Interestingly, I don’t remember seeing autistic people in special ed programs wearing hearing protection regularly in high school or field trips. What I did notice was that most or all of the people in a group of autistic employees wore them for desk jobs. Thankfully, some companies actually hire autistic people for their skills. Other than people talking, I don’t remember their work environment being very noisy maybe because I got used to sensory overload and didn’t pay attention to it.
Just because an autistic person says that he’s not affected by the noise, it doesn’t rule out sensory overload. It’s quite common for autistic people to have trouble describing their emotions, possibly making it difficult to estimate stress levels by feel. Once I get used to the feelings, I might think it’s normal and forget about it. I think it’s similar to not having perfect pitch. Without perfect pitch, you tend to need a reference note in order to identify a given musical note.
It may be more clear to ask if the noise is making it difficult to concentrate rather than if it it’st too loud. Also, if we feel the effects of noise, at what point should we start avoiding them? Maybe we should start wearing hearing protection when we notice the first signs of sensory overload, and remember to wear them at that noise level next time.
If there were symptoms of sensory overload, they were likely overlooked. For example, if I zoned out, it can look like I’m daydreaming. It’s unlikely that quiet work places are suggested. I might ask my classmates to clarify missed spoken instructions or team members might end up doing too much of my work. I might be reminded to pay attention.
I started experimenting with hearing protection after doing my own research and monitoring my symptoms. So far, the main problem is sore ears and face. I sometimes loosened or removed them to prevent pain.
If I regularly wear them, I might need custom fitted ear plugs. When properly fitted, you can wear them comfortably all day. They’re more expensive than reusable ones which you can find at hardware stores but I don’t mind it if they enable us to work.
I think it can be very important to address sensory overload for optimal performance.
Even with hearing protection, I might still need a quieter work space especially for lower frequency sounds. They only reduce the volume. If there’s a lot of bass in the music, you’ll easily hear it.
For safety, it’s important to have enough hearing. It’s also important not to be exposed to too much noise because it can decrease the ability to concentrate. Being able to concentrate is important for safety. If the work place is otherwise quiet, you can try covering your ears when there’s intermittent noises such as sirens and loud vehicles.
I’m now considering sensory overload accommodations in the future. That could mean quiet rooms, dividers, or hearing protection at work, exams, interviews, and schools.
For people with autism, I recommend not ignoring their symptoms or concerns thinking they will go away even it they seem subtle. I recommending treating their causes rather than just trying to mask them or get used to them. It’s possible to get the support from employment services and disability resource centres.
Besides sensory overload from sound, there’s other concerns in autistic people not covered by this article.