ADHD Adulting Autism Neurodiversity

5 Tips to Managing Sensory Overload When Seeking Accommodations Isn’t an Option

managing sensory overload

Managing sensory overload is one of the most common challenges faced by neurodivergent people, and failing to do so can be debilitating--especially in a world that wasn't created with neurodivergent people in mind. Since I was not diagnosed until my early 30s, I worked on developing strategies for managing my level of stimulation as much as I could.

One of the most effective ways I found was to make my bedroom a “safe space” where I could retreat when things got overwhelming. The room had dim lighting (which helped me focus better), soft music playing in the background (soothing and relaxing), and artwork on the walls that were pleasing to my eyes (which kept me grounded). It wasn’t fancy or expensive – just small tweaks to my small area was enough to give me some relief from sensory overstimulation when life got too chaotic.

Make your own accommodations.

However, we don't always have support from others. Disclosing that we need support is not always safe for us. While it is not okay that we are not able to feel safe in the environments that we have to interact with every day, I totally get the need to mask just to survive day to day. If you want to make your own accommodations and don’t have support from others, the first step is to know yourself. What are your needs? Can you identify them at all? Do you know what helps center you and what makes it worse?

If not, you can start by sitting down with a journal and thinking of a what things you like or dislike and make a list. You can make a list of the things you find soothing, comforting, aggravating, and so on. Also, feel free to ask for help from people you trust to may be give insight into this.

Once you've identified what works best for managing sensory overload (for instance, using headphones or a weighted blanket), create a sensory toolbox with those items so they'll be there when needed during stressful situations like exams, meetings, or public speaking presentations.

Create a sensory toolbox.

After getting an idea of what things you like, dislike, and what things ground you, create a sensory toolbox!

It might be difficult to control your environment when you are required to be in the office, in the classroom, or in a theatre. In these cases, and where possible, it can be helpful to keep a box of items with you at all times. The contents of this box could include things that are familiar, new and exciting, or calming. You can use these items to help yourself regulate when things get overwhelming by using them in the way that works best for you. Examples of what could be included in your sensory toolbox are:

  • A weighted blanket or lap pad
  • An item with soft fabric (e.g., stuffed animal) that is comforting when squeezed, a stress ball, or fidget rings
  • A favorite toy or book
  • An item with a strong scent (e.g., essential oils) that helps soothe anxiety or calm tense muscles
managing sensory overload
Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/full-length-of-man-sitting-on-floor-256431/

Know your triggers and be prepared with a plan to avoid them in advance.

Knowing your triggers and being prepared with a plan to avoid them in advance can also help with managing sensory overload. When you know what to expect, it's easier to cope with the situation. For example, if you have a meeting scheduled at noon and you know people will be moving around the office to start taking lunch breaks, leave your desk a few minutes earlier than you otherwise would to get to the meeting room so you can avoid the crowd of colleagues taking their breaks.

If possible, ask if choosing a quieter location for meetings is a possibility, or work from home when possible. Otherwise, if your meeting is online and you have to be in the office, try wearing noise-reduction earplugs or headphones during the meeting if your workplace doesn't offer noise-cancellation technology. This way, even though there may still be some disruptions present during this meeting (e.g., people talking loudly), at least those disruptions won't bother us as much due to how prepared we are ahead of time!

Check in with yourself as often as possible.

If you find yourself in a situation where sensory overload is imminent, check in with yourself as often as you can. In the world that we currently live in, we've been told that asking for support is a weakness, but it is important to remember that the world was not created by a single individual. Instead, it was created by multiple people coming together, and off the backs of people, particularly Black people, who are invisibilised but are the basis upon which our society was created. Be honest with yourself about how you're feeling, and ask for support if it is safe for you to do so.

Being aware of your own needs will help prevent situations from becoming overwhelming or uncomfortable for anyone involved. However, it's important to remember that there are times when taking a break from something may be necessary. It is always okay to say 'no' to something. Sometimes we need time alone without distraction or interaction from others in order not only to recharge our batteries but also to reflect on what just happened so we know how best to handle similar situations later down the line (e.g., being mindful).

Know when to say no.

You are the only one who can determine what your limits are, and when it’s time to say no. You don’t have to do everything all the time, and in fact, sometimes saying no is what will help you feel better. If you try to prove your worth by doing everything that everyone else does, you may end up feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

Sometimes we can get caught up in trying to avoid causing others any inconvenience or disappointment that they forget about their own needs. Especially since we have grown up constantly feeling like we are an inconvenience or disappointment when we have specific needs. While it is important that we respect other people’s feelings and needs, we also need to make sure that our own needs are being met too! It can be difficult at times but there are ways of making accommodations without putting yourself under more stress than necessary.

Conclusion

It's important to remember that you aren't alone in this. Everyone has had a moment of sensory overload and feeling overwhelmed, and there are ways to address it. If you find yourself having trouble managing sensory overload or getting over the negative effects that can come with sensory overload, consider searching for a professional who specializes in helping people with ADHD or autism spectrum disorders.

This article was contributed by Sophia Kaur. Learn more about our writers here!

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