Table Of Content

Understanding Sensory Overload Autism in Children

Updated Jun 10, 2024

Reviewed By: Vanessa Leikvoll

Table Of Content

Getting your kids fed, dressed, and out the door to school can be a daily challenge for parents. However, for a child with sensory overload autism, this task can be even more difficult. 

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a common challenge for over 80% of children with autism. For them, it can mean frequent meltdowns or avoidance of social situations. 

Fortunately, by understanding the root causes of sensory overload autism and learning what care options work best with nervous system dysregulation, parents can better equip themselves with practical, actionable strategies so their children can thrive at home, school, and play.

Understanding Sensory Processing Differences in Autism  

Sensory differences are common and varied among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many have enhanced perception of stimuli most filter out, experiencing the world more vividly. However, sensory overload occurs when sustained input overwhelms the nervous system’s capacity.  

Hypersensitivity is when someone reacts too strongly to stimuli like noise, light, or touch. Even simple things like loud singing, fluorescent lighting, or scratchy fabric can be painful. On the other hand, hyposensitivity means someone is less responsive to stimuli, like feeling little pain after being injured. 

Established research shows that most children with autism have a combination of both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity across different senses. 

When someone is overloaded with sensations, it can feel chaotic, painful, and unbearable. For example, a child may hear loud background music that no one else notices, but it hurts their ears like screaming guitars. Or they may be distracted by visual stimuli, like sunlight reflecting off cars outside, which makes it hard to focus during class. 

These inputs may not bother their peers, but for someone vulnerable to sensory overload, they can trigger a neurological crisis that they can’t control. Therefore, it’s also important to note that overstimulation differs from regular tantrums.

Navigating Sensory Overload: Impacts on Daily Life  

Living with sensory processing differences poses real obstacles for children and families. Sensory issues can be disruptive and permeate daily experiences in many ways. These are some of the most common daily impacts that sensory overload autism can have.

Learning and Education  

  • Impaired concentration from distracting sights and sounds limits classroom progress 
  • Extreme sensitivity to light, fabrics, or peer noises causes frequent school absences
  • Overwhelmed attempting homework after draining days processing sensory input

Social and Emotional Impact   

  • Heightened emotions like anxiety, anger, or shutdowns mean kids miss activities  
  • Withdrawing from social events and friends to avoid overstimulating settings
  • Depression or low self-esteem from feeling disconnected and misunderstood  

Family Dynamics  

  • Financial strain affording therapies and healthcare appointments   
  • Guilt and blame for wanting to ease a child’s discomfort  
  • Lack of respite caring for an oversensitive child with limited support systems
  • Stress navigating meltdowns, school issues, judgment from others  

What Factors Contribute to Sensory Struggles?  

If genetics alone cause autism, why the sharp rise in recent decades without evolutionary shifts? This is where “The Perfect Storm” comes in. This concept recognizes the confluence of vulnerabilities at critical developmental stages, sparking overload.   

Established research links sensory issues to complications like maternal infection or stress hormones crossing the placenta, altering fetal psychiatric wiring. Birth trauma from interventions can also injure delicate neural structures and communication pathways, causing neurological interference and misalignments, called subluxations. This can cause a child’s nervous system to remain “stuck” in “fight or flight mode,” setting the stage for other health challenges. 

The biggest reason physical interventions and birth trauma are often overlooked factors in conditions such as sensory overload and autism is that the injury and damage occur in the delicate brainstem and upper neck region. This region houses and protects the vagus nerve and other elements crucial for regulation, communication, and sensory processing functions. 

Recurrent ear infections and antibiotic usage in early childhood, for example, are also associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder.   

Ultimately, the cumulative stress from remaining in “fight or flight” leads to a state of neurological imbalance called dysautonomia, which characterizes most neurodevelopmental disorders. Anxiety or meltdowns, such as those with sensory overload autism, represent a debilitating flood of distorted stimuli for children robbed of appropriate neurological filtering and integration tools.  

Fortunately, Neurologically-Focused Chiropractic Care can help restore nervous system regulation skills, improve vagus nerve tone, and help to balance the autonomic nervous system, all without medication side effects. 

Innovative Care for Sensory Regulation Challenges  

When experiencing an overwhelming sensory overload, traditional therapies like occupational, physical, or speech therapy can help develop coping strategies, but symptoms often still persist. Traditional providers recommend medication for anxiety or emotional dysregulation accompanying sensory chaos.

However, a new paradigm is emerging that prioritizes balancing the nervous system. Advanced assessment tools like thermography scans visually showcase overloaded neural regions, while heart rate variability metrics quantify fatigue of the vagus nerve and autonomic nervous system imbalance, which is responsible for sensory traffic control.

Specialized chiropractors use this information from the Neurosensory INSiGHT Scans to formulate personalized clinical care plans for each patient. The Neuro-Tonal Adjustments provided seek to release stuck sensory tension, stimulate the vagus nerve, and improve regulation and resilience. 

For children with sensory overload autism, advanced diagnostic testing and personalized neurological can help them manage their sensory challenges more effectively. 

Fostering Sensory Support in Daily Life   

Like any neurological disorder, simple environmental modifications can make a big difference in navigating daily life, especially when coupled with care from an occupational therapist.

At Home

  • Set up a low-stimulus sanctuary space with dim, indirect lighting  
  • Use acoustic panels, curtains, and rugs to absorb sound  
  • Communicate schedule changes in advance
  • Engage in joint compression or weighted blanket sessions   
  • Experiment with noise-canceling headphones  

Working With Educators  

  • Request preferential classroom seating away from doors or bright lights  
  • Seek modified lighting, quiet study nooks, and noise buffers   
  • Allow sensory tools like fidgets and stability balls  
  • Permit headphones, sunglasses, or hats  

While early action better equips young nervous systems to handle input, it’s important to meet children where they are today with compassion. With patience and the proper sensory-friendly ecosystem, their possibilities remain boundless.  

Creating a Brighter Path Forward  

Sensory differences should not limit or discourage children from thriving. While autism may cause wiring variations that overwhelm some environments, simple adjustments can enable participation and joy. Professional support can help build skills and smooth sensory difficulties, while parents can create safe spaces to protect their child’s potential.

For best results in improving the quality of life for those affected by Sensory Processing Disorder and its related symptoms, it is important to address the real root cause of the disorder rather than relying on conventional medicine’s “watch and wait” approach. 

If you have already been working with a PT or OT on sensory processing therapies and have hit a plateau or are not seeing as much progress as you would like, subluxation and dysautonomia may inhibit your child’s ability to achieve optimal results.

Check out the PX Docs Directory and schedule an initial consultation for expert advice and a customized plan for your child’s needs.

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