Communication and Sensory Overload

You know how sometimes when a computer has too many things running it will sort of slow down and when you open something or switch tasks, it just takes longer to load?

Or your bandwidth drops a bit and your video is stuck buffering?

That’s sort of what it’s like when I start going into shutdown mode.

My speech capability is usually the first thing to go. If I try to express a thought and make it travel from my brain to my mouth, I get stuck buffering. No amount of refreshes or reloading will get the thought out that way.

Sometimes I can still processes type. Most times, actually. I can read and respond in text messages or chats, provided I’m given enough time to compose the thoughts in the first place before others move on in the conversation.

Less frequently (but still common) my thoughts are merely in images. Flashes of illustrations, memes, movie clips, etc that my brain finds relevant to the situation at hand. In these instances I can often still communicate as long as the person on the receiving end at least understands that gifs are communication. They’re basically a visual echolalia.

In any of the above described scenarios, echolalia is prevalent. I burst into song bits that are related to my thoughts, I quote movies, books, commercials, radio, random things I just hear and repeat, I echo all kinds of stuff depending on the situation.

Sometimes I have nothing to give besides motions and grunts. I can’t even process things well enough to show a visual. All I can do is find a space that’s quiet and dark where I feel safe and can decompress. Often I’ll need at least a few hours nap before can process the event and express my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

If you’re asking your child how their day went the instant they get in the car or get home and you’re not hearing all about their day, they might need some time alone or sensory play or something before they can tell you. If they’re having meltdowns the minute they’re home that’s a pretty good indicator they’re overwhelmed.

Autistic advocates are often told things like “you don’t know my child.” True, we don’t know your child personally, but when we were kids we were quite similar in a lot of cases. I also see quite frequently when an Autistic adult will make a suggestion that seems quite obvious to me as an Autistic and the NT parent replies, “wow I NEVER would have thought of that,” so clearly there are times when Autistics do in fact know other Autistics better than NT folks do.

That’s not an insult to NTs or their ability to parent Autistic children. Not at all. It’s just a fact. In the exact same way that NT folks seem to understand each other quite well while y’all leave us Autistics going “wtaf.” There are times when between adults, NT folks and Autistic/ND folks simply DO NOT understand one another.

If you think that doesn’t happen between NT adults and Autistic/ND children, you’re not paying attention. I’d say that’s probably the cause of quite a few meltdowns in Autistic kids is just simple miscommunications between neurotypes combined with the usual compliance based parenting styles and the expectation of speech as communication.

The problem lies when other forms of communication aren’t accepted as valid. It’s expected that the Autistic child will adapt to their surroundings through therapies rather than adapting the surroundings and expectations for the child.

If sensory overload is causing communication difficulties, provide accommodations that ease overload. If societal expectations are inaccessible we should be changing societal expectations. We’ve been doing it about other stuff for generations otherwise we’d all be running around in corsets and three piece suits just to stroll through the park and ankles would still be taboo. Society changes ALL THE TIME, often seemingly on a whim, but we can’t change the idea that lack of eye contact is rude and small talk should be expected?

I had a whole thing planned here but the kids are now playing with the plastic money set and the sound of them stirring is my own sensory hell and I can’t do the thing with the words anymore. Maybe I’ll finish and put this on the website later. Right now, executive function is zero and I can’t.


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