What Does Autism and Sensory Overload Feel Like?


I was having a deep conversation (via Google Hangouts instant messenger) with a close friend about my autism. He made a comment that he did not see autism as a disability, but more as an alternate way of thinking that is not serviced very well by the modern education system. I agree – partially…

Quickly I realized that no matter how hard I tried, there was no way I could accurately explain or convey the parts of my autism that truly “disable” me. Searching the internet, I quickly found a few articles with other Aspies who had attempted to explain what I currently could not – the negative things that neurotypical people have a hard time comprehending.

“What does autism feel like?”

In that moment I was completely unable to explain.

The most disabling part of autism (for me) may be its invisibility and my status as “high-functioning.” Everyone expects me to do OK. I am smart and use my ability to pick up on patterns to get ahead in the world. I am one of those “gifted” Aspies, so my autism must be a gift right?

My good days are amazing, but on my worst days my sensory overload won’t let me out of bed. Currently I am averaging about three really bad days a month. They hit at random and stop my world in its tracks.

People can’t tell when I am having sensory problems. Some days are worse than others, and most days I am in at least mild pain at all times. The lights hurt my eyes and head, smells make me gag, small sounds nag at me constantly, I walk into walls, trip over things, and sometimes miss my mouth when I eat.

I miss many things in most conversations. I am awkward, weird, and my intentions are often misunderstood. If someone is not smiling or looking pissed off I can’t read them – unless I know them very well. Normally I have no clue when I’ve offended someone.

Autism feels like I am out of sync with the world and its people. I am alone in a lot of ways. That may sound sad, but honestly I am happiest when I am alone with my own thoughts.

Below are some of the items I found while researching how to better explain sensory overload.

I can take no credit for anything below.

1. Lori Sealy, a Mighty contributor – “My Answer to the Question ‘What Does Autism Feel Like?’,” talking about her sensory processing difficulties.

“My visual experience is also rather radical. Bright light can be painful — honestly, any light can be painful and I often compensate with sunglasses. I can also get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of imagery that my mind is attempting to process at one time. I take in everything in a panoramic sense — and that sometimes makes it hard for me to focus on the central thing I’m supposed to see. I’ve found that wearing a ball cap helps me filter, by force, that which is crashing in by flood — it works in the same sense that “horse blinders” do at the race track.”

2. “One Guy’s Opinion: What it feels like to have autism as an adult” by Esther

“In general…

  • Before you know you have it, you simply assume that you have an odd personality.
  • After you find out that other people are in the same situation as you, you realize that you are in fact quite a normal autistic, and that many of your quirks are symptoms.

Social experience…

  • You have some trouble taking hints, but only figure this out very late, or when other people tell you. It takes you very long to learn how to pick up in hints, and you never learn pick up on all of them.
  • You sense that other people place more importance on how they are feeling. It affects their judgement, and things that are not based on logic and facts may come off as unreasonable or immature to you.
  • You notice that people spend more time on small talk and polite phrases than you, but you don’t like it, as it don’t really convey useful information. You may have trouble initiating conversations with strangers because you lack skills in this area.

Video Simulations to Help You Experience Sensory Overload

1. “Carly’s Café – Experience Autism Through Carly’s Eyes”

Carly Fleischmann is a nonverbal autism advocate and YouTube talk show host. She is amazing. I strongly recommend you check her out.

2. “What it’s like to walk down a street when you have autism or an ASD”

More great videos on Craig Thomson‘s YouTube channel.

 3. “Autism: Sensory Overload Simulation

Check out the streamofawareness YouTube channel for more.

4. “Sensory Overload Simulation”

More from WeirdGirlCyndi on YouTube.

Follow this journey on Anonymously Autistic.

Image via Thinkstock.

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