Sensory Overload and the Power of Silence

A couple nights ago, I was sitting at the dinner table with my sister and her partner when we got onto the topic of autism. A popular YouTuber I liked shared a video a day or two before about his son who has autism, hoping to raise awareness and spread some of the beauty that surrounds the conversation and community of autism.

It’s a conversation I hadn’t thought much about before this year. But in learning more, there is so much to be gained. So many of the actions those with autism take, for example, are things all of us do every day.

All of us regulate – bouncing our leg, tapping the desk, clicking the pen, scratching at finger nails – to help keep a sense of rhythm and regulation as we go through our days. Many of us experience sensory overload – the music is too loud during a conversation or the wind is blowing too hard in the car or the texture of that food is just too horrible to try again. We all check out of conversations or activities – to preserve brain space or cut off sensory overload.

Today, with so much constant input and stimulation from the world around us, these actions have become even more important for everyone. We all need time and space to check out when we feel overstimulated, to find emotional and physical regulation in our day-to-day experiences.

There is no real sense of limit when it comes to external stimulus these days. There is no real sense of regulation. There is no real silence in our world. We have to make a concerted effort to find silence. Maybe not because we want it, but because we need it.

Silence is a key. Silence gives our brain time to recharge. Like a passive state. Turning off the music or the podcast or the phone can give your brain the space and time it actually needs to think about things deeply and process and regulate.

I’ve never much liked cooking or doing dishes, but I now find myself really enjoying that space. It becomes a time of relief. A space of absent focus – passive activities that I don’t need to focus on, but keep me busy.

The conversation around autism cannot start and stop with understanding the autistic spectrum and attributes as it applies to the autistic community. It has to move into a conversation about our own lives, our own attributes, and understanding ourselves better too – because we are all the same in so many ways.