Virtual Reality Video Shows What Sensory Overload Feels Like for People on the Autism Spectrum


“Imagine feeling so overloaded that you just couldn’t cope.” That’s the situation the U.K.’s  National Autistic Society is exploring in a new virtual reality film that lets viewers experience what sensory overload feels like for people with autism spectrum disorder.

“Imagine the difference it would make if someone showed you a little kindness,” the Society writes on their website. “Rather than judging you as a naughty kid having a meltdown, or a ‘weirdo’ flapping their hands.”

Fostering kindness and understanding is the goal of the two-minute clip, released by the Society. The clip is shot in a shopping mall, from the perspective of 10-year-old Alex Marshall, who is on the autism spectrum. The video shows triggering stimuli such as flashing fluorescent lights, clicking high heels, a woman scuffing her shoes on the floor after spilling a drink, a colorful bunch of balloons and a flashing store security alarm. By its end, Marshall is breathing heavily behind the camera.

Viewers can look around the scene in 360 degrees on their computers or phones, or use Google’s cardboard goggles for the full virtual reality experience.

(Warning: The video below contains flashing lights, bright colors and loud, sudden noises, which may be triggering for individuals who experience sensory overload.)

Part of the National Autistic Society’s ongoing “Too Much Information” (TMI) campaign, the video is a follow-up to its first “Can you make it to the end?” film, which garnered nearly 60 million views. The TMI campaign also includes a research report, tips on how to help people with sensory overload and a map that allows users to pledge their support for autism awareness.

“To help the public understand a little more about autism, we’re really excited to be the first charity using virtual reality to demonstrate what this aspect of autism can feel, see and sound like,” Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said in a press release.

Marshall, who starred in both films, said he hopes the campaign will help others understand his perspective.

“It really helps when people understand things, and this is a really cool way to do it – you can just show someone inside your head!” Marshall said in the release. “When someone’s seen what it’s like, I think they’ll know why I get overwhelmed, and then they’ll understand that I’m not being naughty.”

The video will be screened at malls around the UK, and given to members of the U.K. Parliament. A package for schools is also available and includes virtual reality headsets as well as lesson plans.

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