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My Reaction to That Sensory Overload Virtual Reality Video as Someone on the Autism Spectrum


The Mighty recently reported on a virtual reality experience, produced by the National Autistic Society, depicting sensory overload through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum. We asked our contributors, if they felt comfortable, what they thought of the video.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I have had my share of meltdowns and panic attacks. So when I was asked for my opinion on a new virtual reality video depicting sensory overload, I was a bit nervous. But I decided I was up for the challenge and sat down at my computer to go through the experience.

Editor’s note: The video below contains flashing lights, bright colors and loud, sudden noises, which may be triggering for individuals who experience sensory overload.

The first thing I noticed was the woman in the video said something (obviously talking to the camera), and I couldn’t even process what she had said because it was said so quickly. This is definitely a real issue for me when it comes to everyday functioning. I went to pause it to see if I could understand it better, and my mouse slipped.

That’s when I realized I could pan the video 360 degrees. This makes the video much more realistic. I tried to look at everything going on, but then I heard this horrible, high-pitched sound. It hurt my ears. (Of course, because there was so much to take in, I had to watch the video a second time. It was only then that I understood the high-pitched sound was a store alarm going off, as the video takes place in a mall.)

The woman started talking again. I panned back to look at her. She was trying to tell me to calm down, but this only gave me more information I needed to process amidst everything else. It didn’t really help.

Soon, I realized “I” (as a person in the video) was starting to hyperventilate. This was getting bad. It was either a panic attack or a full-blown meltdown. And while the picture began to fade to black to simulate closing my eyes, the sound also died down. I can only assume that would imply plugging my ears. So far, pretty accurate.

Then, suddenly, the woman and I were outside the mall. I had stopped hyperventilating. The woman said everything was fine. But there’s something about this people may not fully understand. Although I was out of the overwhelming situation — I had already been through the meltdown and panic attack — everything was not fine. If this had actually happened, I’d be exhausted and it could take hours for me to be OK again.

So, overall, the video was definitely interesting. I think there could have been a bit more of a crowd of people in the mall to make it so you couldn’t figure out where more of the sounds were coming from. But the depiction of a meltdown due to sensory overload is pretty well done.

As the boy says at the end of the video, “I’m not naughty. I’m on the autism spectrum.”

Sensory overload is real. It’s not something to be brushed off or something I can just get over. I hope this video will help more people understand that idea.