Lord, it happened again. I overheard not one, but TWO conversations at the same time. I nearly lost my mind. When confronted with this scenario, many people would ignore the chatter completely while others might eagerly lean in for juicy tidbits of gossip.
However, those who live with developmental differences like autism or ADHD incur an extreme sense of discomfort known as sensory overload. While not a surefire sign of neurodiversity, sensory overload has made itself out to be one of my most challenging opponents. A bumpy car ride and siblings playing rough. A crowded formal event and flashing lights. Chaotic Zoom classrooms and my brother doing jumping jacks in the corner. Even just the sound of my keyboard clicking when I type or the way my chair creaks could ruin my day.
Admittedly, I’m easily irritable and jump at loud noises or physical contact. Expressing my concerns about sensory overload prompted my siblings to suggest I inherited a significant amount of feline blood. A cat. They called me a cat. I don’t like new people or places and I sleep all day only to have a few hours of rabid productivity in the deep hours of night. I guess I really am a cat, might as well embrace it.
Researchers don’t yet have the full picture on sensory overload. Some people still think the phrase “sensory issues” can substitute as a kinder term for ADHD or autism. In “8 Common Myths about Sensory Processing Issues,” Amanda Morin reassures parents and kids, “It’s true there’s no formal diagnosis of ‘sensory processing issues.’ And there’s debate over the terms sensory processing disorder and sensory integration disorder. But that doesn’t mean these struggles aren’t real.”
People with sensory processing issues do not fall in a category completely separate from ADHD and autism, making it confusing for people like me who can’t get an official diagnosis. As stranded as I feel, my family always makes it worse. It’s only funny sometimes.
I often isolate myself from stressful situations by sitting in my little corner of the house and listening to loud music. Sometimes, you just need to pick your poison, and I choose music. While seemingly proof that I can handle loud noises just fine, I kindly remind you that a predictable playlist of sounds I like is not the same as sudden, chaotic, and unexpected noises I have no control over. Because of this tendency, I have earned a bad reputation. My symptoms of overload differ from the expected emotional distress and tears that children often display. I straight up get mad.
Kathryn Watson explains in “What Is Sensory Overload?” that when too many sensory signals are being transmitted from your environment, they have the potential to short-circuit the brain. From there, your body receives “the message that you need to get away from some of the sensory input you’re experiencing. Your brain feels trapped by all the input it’s getting, and your body starts to panic in a chain reaction.” Responses include covering eyes and ears, feeling restless, or experiencing an increased sensitivity to texture. Whenever I experience sensory overload, my hard-won focus is shattered. Soon, panic gives way to anger and I bare my little cat fangs at anyone who gets close.
I am infamous for not hearing my parents call for me from the living room or even my brother calling me in the same room. Whenever someone needs to tell me something important, they do a little wiggle to check if I have headphones in my ears. Over the years, my family has just accepted it and tried their best to stay patient, which I greatly appreciate. But you know what would be even better? If they didn’t give me these overload issues in the first place. They are a very chaotic bunch of individuals.
Before I grow a tail and start meowing, I would like to note that my sensory issues have made me a more empathetic person. I struggle with this sometimes, but experience is the best teacher. So when I see kids having meltdowns in public because the clothes they tried on are far too itchy or the flashing lights on their shoes are too bright, I wish them the best.I am grateful that tactile overload (the kind of stimuli received from physical contact) is not my main issue, and that I can control the amount of meltdowns-per-week I have by minding my own business like the house cat I apparently am.
- Morin, Amanda. “8 Common Myths about Sensory Processing Issues.” Understood. Accessed 1 June 2021.
- Watson, Kathryn. “Sensory Overload: Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, and More.” Healthline, Healthline Media.
Accessed June 1 2021.