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Sensory differences are often very common in individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as well as other special needs. Everyday events can be considered completely overstimulating.

As a young adult with ASD, I get startled by loud noises, even more so if these noises happen unexpectedly. When attending a school assembly I would always have my hands over my ears because the noise was too loud for me to handle. I can handle loud noises that bother me better now; but I still have times when I struggle.

Just this last week I was at the mall and the fire alarm went off. The noise was so loud, I couldn’t take it, and the lights started to flash. I was so overloaded I didn’t even remember that the lights had flashed and I only know this because I was told so by others I was with. I immediately reacted to the noise of the alarm by screaming and putting my hands over my ears. The event happened so quickly, I did not have the time I needed to stop and think, and self regulate. Luckily it was not at an emergency, and the fire alarm was probably pulled by accident.

But this event makes me realize just how much my sensory differences can impact my everyday life. Something as simple as the fire alarm going off at the mall was easy for all of the other shoppers at the mall to cope with; they just kept shopping, the security guard said a few words into his walkie-talkie, and it was over. It did not end so easily for me. I had to come out of the overload that the noise of the alarm had caused. My mom was with me, so she was able to comfort me. We stepped to the side, so people could walk past us, and she hugged me for a few minutes, while I covered my ears and screamed. Then I began to calm down, and happily announced that I wanted to go shopping!

The event had ended just as quickly as it had started. Yet it was not completely over yet. I was afraid to go anywhere in the mall by myself that day, fearful that the alarm may go off again. And the whole time we were shopping I felt very dysregulated and out-of-sync, all of which was caused by the alarm going off for not even five minutes.

Over the years I have found certain tools, tips, and tricks that help me when I am overloaded. I want to share these tips and tricks with others hoping that they will help you better help individuals in your life who experience sensory differences.

Sensory Tips and Tricks

  • Remain calm: It is very important that you remain calm while helping the individual calm down because if you’re worked up, they will only get more upset.
  • Comfort them: Not all individuals with sensory issues will want to be comforted when they are upset, and that is okay. I love being comforted but only at certain times, and under certain circumstances.
  • Carry a sensory toolkit with you wherever you go: Put items in this tool kit that will help you help your child when they are experiencing sensory overload.
  • Provide distractions: I often use my phone as a way to zone out from stimuli in the environment that I may perceive as being overwhelming. Video games, coloring books, and toys can serve as great distraction items.
  • Reassurance: Reassure your child that it is going to be okay, and that you are there to help them.
  • Take breaks: Encourage your child to take frequent breaks; breaks often help me self-regulate. Once I take a break I am then usually able to go back to the situation that was overwhelming me.
  • Leave: Be prepared to leave if the situation becomes too much for your loved one to handle. I have learned over the years that if I do not think I am able to regain control and cope in a certain situation, it is always better to leave.

What to Include in a Sensory Tool Kit?

The answer to this really depends on what your child’s sensory needs are; but personally, I always make sure I have the following in my tool kit:

  • Noise reducing headphones;
  • A distraction item; and
  • Sensory fidgets.

Help others by sharing your sensory tip or what you would put in your child’s tool kit. Thanks!