Sensory Overload to Sensory Calm

Autism Worldwide

By Angela E Joyce


Imagine. You walk into a cafe enticed by the thought of a caffeinated beverage. The fresh smell of roasted coffee beans hits you and your mouth fills with saliva in anticipation of a hot steaming cup of java. As you wait in line to order your drink, the lights in the room seem brighter than normal and you take note of exactly how many conversations are going on around. When you get up to the cashier, it is hard to focus on what the cashier is saying as the lights blare and the conversations around you become almost unbearably loud. You manage to order a cappuccino, you wanted extra foam, but you couldn't get the words out. Now the coffee bean grinder goes off and it’s like a shotgun going off. Your heart begins to race and your breathing quickens. You start fidgeting with your hands and picking the skin on your forearms to tune out the sound but all the anxiety and pressure on your mind only intensifies as the steamer whips the milk around the steel cup that the barista is holding. Finally, you can’t take it any longer. You run outside to escape this sensory overload only to break into tears. Overwhelmed but relieved that you can finally express what you were holding inside.


This is a window into the experience of someone who lives with autism and has low care needs or what some refer to as a “high functioning autistic”. Each autistic person is unique and experiences autism in their own way. Symptoms are experienced to varying degrees by those living with autism, they include sensory overload, communication challenges, anxiety, depression, and emotional dysregulation.


“Autism has locked me inside a body I cannot control”- Carly Fleischmann, a young Canadian adult living with autism.


The day-to-day difficulties and care needs of children with Autism are high. Often many of them cannot learn and develop in a regular school environment. This is made worse by low-income individuals and/or people living in a developing country with less awareness and accessibility. This was the case in Al-Mudassar village, District Gujrat, Subdivision Kharian, Province Punjab, Pakistan. Many children are living with debilitating developmental disorders, coming from impoverished households with sick relatives and no access to adequate special needs education. LIFE was able to help 150 of them. In coordination with the Al-Mudassar Trust and a generous donor, LIFE facilitated the establishment of a sensory room. A sensory room is a valuable tool for different therapeutic purposes for people with cognitive disabilities.

The sensory room is full of different soothing textures and colors. Rainbow mats line the floors. Sensory bean bags help children to feel grounded and soothe anxiety. For children with certain types of autism, swings and trampolines help to achieve a weightless feeling which is calming. Bright colored balls and slides provide a smooth gliding sensation. As well as an art room for children to express themselves in alternative ways to speech, which is so important for children that are nonverbal.

People struggling with Autism face a variety of challenges in the area of communication, movement, and balance. These can be worked on in multisensory environments, encouraging the use of their residual abilities, intensifying or controlling them as necessary. This sensory room is one step in the right direction to make the world more accessible to children with developmental disabilities so they cannot just survive but thrive.

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