Every autistic person has at least one sense that can get overstimulated. They don’t all realize it, but that is one of the major hallmarks of the neuro type.
When I say overstimulated, I’m talking about too much information. Remember Johnny 5 from the movie Short Circuit?
Whenever an autistic person gets overstimulated, we need the opposite. We need less input. Frankly, the copious amounts of input we are getting are causing our own brain to short circuit. The reactions you see from us are the response of not being able to process the input. We just want it to stop.
These meltdowns can show up easier at times whenever we are already stressed about something. If there is no way to control the input, there is no way to control the meltdown.
(Once out of childhood, autistic people can also have gained a control on the emotional outbursts that make up the meltdown. So in cases like that, you will see an autistic person shut down from any interaction.)
It took awhile for me to understand where my overstimulation can happen, but now I do. It’s from noise. Not just any noise. Not just any loud noise.
Sometimes it is from a noise that is overly loud compared to everything else. When a noise like this happens not just once, but multiple times, it causes physical stress. A perfect example is a college football game I attended earlier this year. The PA system was turned up so loud that it was likely too loud for the far end of the stadium.
What sends me in the direction of shutdown or meltdown though is multiple sounds, all at the same volume level. I had this happen to me most recently at a restaurant in Denver. The noise of everyone in the restaurant talking was the same volume as the music was at the same volume as another source. What saved me from losing it that evening was focusing on the TV up ahead of me that had closed caption running. Forcing my attention on that closed caption kept me from a poor reaction that night (though I did still end up overly stressed at the end of the night).
All of this said, please be aware of anyone around you that may be getting overstimulated, whether by noise or some other means. It is likely they are not being difficult with you and the situation on purpose!When
Also published on Medium.