January 02, 2015

Sensory Triggers

If you are Autistic or live with someone who is, you probably know your/their particular sensory triggers. There are lots that overlap, but everyone probably has one or two that are unique to them (since we're all unique individuals).

When I talk about sensory triggers, I'm talking about objects, sounds or experiences that can trigger sensory overload, over stimulation or meltdown/shutdown. In serious cases, it can cause seizures.

Some things can trigger someone almost immediately and others can take time to build up over the course of a day or more. It also depends on how well we were balancing ourselves prior to whatever trigger was introduced. If we are tired, hungry or sick, we'll be more fragile. Other times, there is no real predictor to how we will react.

I'm going to mention some of mine, because it took me a very long time to realize what I was experiencing was sensory overload due to very common things. It doesn't help that I didn't get a diagnosis until last year. All of this is through my own self-discovery and observations of my son.


When dealing with sensory issues, it seems a lot of Autistics fit into one of two camps: the clothes wearers and the strippers. Some will wear the same clothes all the time, regardless of season. Others will want to be naked, or at the very least, topless, as much as possible, regardless of the temperature.

I ran around naked a lot as a child, but grew into more of a clothes-wearer as an adult. However, I have no shame or problem being naked.

For me, clothes have specific issues. I pretty much always have socks and slippers on in the winter and must be barefoot in the summer.

I wear tight pants, but do not want anything tight around my waist. I rarely wear belts or sweaters with tight hems. I'm not a fan of tights or pantyhose.

I dislike tight things around my neck, so no chokers. I'm very specific about turtlenecks and only wear them sometimes. I will not wear itchy wool (I think that's pretty common with everyone).


(Note: it's quite possible these are better attributed to misophonia)

Whistling makes me crazy. A shame because my husband will happily whistle a tune and I REALLY. CAN'T. STAND. IT.

Retching/burping/gagging/vomiting noises - mostly because I'm an emetophobe though. I don't think this has to do with sensory really, but it will cause a panic attack.
(I have had to get used to burping sounds since living with two males, but I still don't like it. Also, yes, China was awful for that.)

Snot sniffling - when people snuck/sniff their snot instead of blowing their nose, it drives me up the wall. Again, I live with two males who do this and I can only take so much.

I very much dislike the sound of trumpets/horns. You can instantly ruin a song for me by playing trumpet.

People chewing with their mouth open.

It could be because I see some sounds and those sounds are just gross and disgusting.


People breathing on me, sighing or coughing - Sometimes I feel like a target, like people go out of their way to come near me and cough. Or just walk down the street, pass me and cough in my direction. There's always some weirdo behind me in line sighing and breathing down my back. Makes me nuts!

When in bed, I cannot have my husband breathing on me - I will make him face the other way.


For me crowds can cause a sensory overload situation because of the movement and heat. Add to that the fact I can't predict what so many people are going to do and I find that difficult to deal with. Also, everyone is coughing and breathing all over the place. Ugh.

Pregnancy: that was pretty much one long sensory overload experience.


It's important to remember that even too much fun can cause us to overload. It's not just things we don't like that set us off, but even too much of a good thing can overwhelm us after a while. For this reason, I make sure to intersperse fun/exciting activities with calming activities throughout the day, for my son. As he gets older, he'll be able to tolerate more, but right now he's so young, he can't regulate as effectively. Even me as an adult, I need to limit my "fun" to some extent. I can go to one party on a weekend - I'm not one of those people out Friday and Saturday nights, running from event to event. If I go out on a Friday night, I need Saturday and Sunday to recoup.

If you want, comment and add some of the things that really irritate you and send you into Overload Town.

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