Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stress and sensory overload

What triggers sensory overloads and rage reactions in autistics? Why is stress so hard to handle?

Many people with autism may find excess stress or negative stress in general difficult or triggering to them simply because of the natural effect stress has on our bodies.

Stress triggers a release of adrenaline naturally as a defense mechanism. Adrenaline amplifies sensory input or intake. Consider that people with autism already have senses that may be "turned up" or "amplified". They already have a natural level of difficulty with sensory issues. Add adrenaline and magnify that. The result is sensory overload which can trigger several forms of behavior response.

Not everyone is triggered the same way or as easily as one another. But something found to be unpleasant, such as a sound or texture, will only become more unpleasant as it continues because of the natural stress reaction.

It all depends on what our sensitivities are and how they affect us. It also depends on how much we've had to practice with that sensitivity to live with it. Some sensitivities can be lessened by dealing with them enough to raise resistance. Not all can be handled what way either depending on the level of sensitivity. My sensitivity to squeaking balloons is a good example. I can't tolerate it, it's painful. I've actually had a squeal happen near me at a high enough pitch that it made me cry out. Others, stared at me strangely. Fortunately, the sound was short lived. I still had to retreat and give myself some sensory deprivation while the adrenaline effect wore off.

Just having a single sensitivity to something doesn't make you autistic either. It's an extreme of sensory issues across the board. Some are too high, others are too low, and those not affected could be drowned out by those that are over loading.

Our brains naturally process everything we take in around us. They do so with a series of what I like to call "breakers" that allow us to sort the sensory input. These breakers allow you to ignore input that isn't important, like the ticking of a clock when you're trying to talk to someone. In sensory overload and sometimes without, that ticking can be too loud for us to ignore and we will struggle with it and every other sound in the room in order to concentrate on your voice.

The stress reaction is also physically exhausting. It's like your very senses have had a seizure and they leave you drained from your body fighting to compensate.

It's best to have an escape route or allow an escape route for calming measures. Patience is also a serious virtue. Autistics should not be pressured or rushed. Berating and yelling will only make things worse. Even still, those of us with autism should do our best (if we are high functioning enough) to know our own conditions and how they affect us. Knowledge is truly power.

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