We autistic adults often ask, how can I deal with sensory overload and function better?
There are several things we can do to reduce our sensory overload and possibly improve our executive functioning.
Here are some life hacks for autistic adults that might help you.
How to Deal with Sensory Overload in Adults
Fortunately for us, there are a lot of sensory products out there to help us reduce our stress from sensory overload.
Stimming is often described as release of anxious energy that helps calm ourselves when we become overwhelmed.
There are several things we can do to help calm ourselves before, during, or after we encounter stressful stimuli.
Visual Stimming to Relieve Stress
Many of us autistic adults find colored or moving lights calming.
Giving ourselves something to gaze at can help us turn our homes into a calming environment.
Colored lights with patterns and visual textures that display on the ceiling of our rooms can be a great way to visually stim.
Lighting our entire rooms in different colors while watching the patterns on the ceiling and listening to our favorite music may allow us to feel a sense of relief.
Reducing or Stimming with Sound
It is well known within our autistic community to use either noise cancelling headphones or earbuds to lower the sound levels around us.
Other popular options include the Flare Audio Calmer ear inserts and the Loop Earplugs. (Just to let you know, as an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases. It is not necessary to purchase through my links, but it is much appreciated.)
I own both the Flare Audio Calmer and the Loop earplugs. I sleep with the loop earplugs in my ears every night, and turn into an insomniac without them. The Flare Audio doesn’t work well for me, but many autistic adults love them.
Stimming with sound could lower our stress by listening to music we enjoy and find calming.
Listening to our playlists of music we find calming can help ease ourselves in situations that might cause anxiety.
Carry Stim Toys with You
There are many stim toys we can choose from to carry with us in our bags or pockets.
Stim toys allow us to use repetitive motions to self-soothe, and they can provide us with a way to visually stim as well.
Fidget spinners can fit into our pockets, spinner rings we can wear, we can store fidget cubes in our bags, along with many other stim toys out there.
Many autistic adults find chewing to be a calming repetitive motion they can do when feeling anxious.
Chew necklaces are made from durable silicone that comes in many shapes and sizes, and since it is a necklace, we can wear them around our necks to chew on wherever we are.
Weighted blankets can be a great product to use for us autistic adults.
The extra weight can be a calming signal to our overstimulated nervous system, and can hit the reset button on our sensory system every night.
Without resetting daily, our sensory overload can keep building every day, until one day we burn out because we haven’t found relief.
Typically, it is recommended to use a weighted blanket that is no more than 10% of your body weight.
Weighted blankets usually come in 3 different weights and sizes. It ranges from 12lbs, 15lbs, 20lbs and sometimes 25lbs. Manufacturers of the weighted blankets do not recommend going over 25lbs, even if it is 10% or less of your body weight.
There are cooling weighted blankets to use in the summer, and thicker blankets to use in the winter.
Some weighted blankets come with removable covers you can wash in the washing machine, and some are made from sherpa or fleece material that you must spot clean.
They can be a great way to find relief at the end of the day.
Executive Function Autism Strategies
The reality is many of us autistic adults struggle with executive functioning.
We all struggle in different ways and with different things.
There are a few things we can do to work around what we struggle with most, and some of these methods could be helpful.
Focus on the Small Steps
Instead of looking at the overall end goal of the big project we are working on, it can be helpful to focus on each small task at a time so we don’t get overwhelmed.
We can only get so much done in one day, and if we focus on the big picture, we can put pressure on ourselves to get it all done right now, which can lead to overwhelm.
It can be helpful to focus on what we can do today. Sometimes we have unproductive days, bad days, good days, days where we cross off a lot of our to-do lists. It’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to be on top of things every single day.
Autistic adults can sometimes have a single-focus mind. If we are in the mood to do a certain task or project, our brains might obsess over it and refuse to do anything else. If we have time available, letting our autistic brain go where it wants to go might be a good thing to do.
Focusing on what is in front of you right now, and doing each small task you can get done that day, eventually will add up to the big project or larger goal being completed - one day at a time.
Autism and Cleaning
With cleaning, we autistic adults all struggle in different ways.
We can become so easily overwhelmed by messy surroundings, but lack the focus to clean. We might absentmindedly put items in various places around our homes, and that can add up until our surroundings are cluttered with our randomly placed belongings.
Once an item is set down, it might become part of the scenery and our autistic brains might forget it’s there. It’s easy to lose focus when our high-powered brains are constantly thinking of other things.
If we create a habit of spending a few minutes a day cleaning up clutter around our homes, we can reduce the amount of clutter before it gets overwhelming.
Sometimes it can be as simple as throwing away soda cans or food wrappers.
Making a habit to throw away unneeded items at least once a day can prevent the mess from getting to where we have to spend hours cleaning it all up.
Once our homes are clutter free, we might feel inspired to clean other items such as the kitchen countertops, cabinets, bathtubs and showers, and even stay on top of laundry.
Just a few minutes a day can help us create environments that are a lot less overwhelming.
Autism and Hygiene
We autistic adults might struggle with different aspects of hygiene.
There are a few things we can do to make keeping clean a bit more pleasant.
Some autistic adults are so sensitive to touch or smell that they can’t handle the slightest bit of sweat or feeling dirty, and as a result will shower often, especially during the summer.
Other autistic adults don’t like the feeling of shower water on their skin and it can be a struggle to shower daily.
If we can replace the shower head where we live, the feeling of the water could be easier to handle if we find a water stream that feels tolerable.
Keeping Our Teeth Clean
Finding the right toothpaste or toothbrush we can handle might be a struggle as well.
Electric toothbrushes might feel overwhelming to us, and finding the right toothbrush can be a struggle. If we opt for smaller brush heads and the bristle texture we can handle, such as soft, medium or hard, it might be easier for us to handle brushing our teeth.
Toothpaste can make a large difference as well. It seems most of the toothpaste on the market today foams when we brush our teeth, it might have a strange taste, and overall feel highly unpleasant. This can make it a challenge to keep our teeth clean.
However, we can look for toothpastes that are a regular old-fashioned paste with a flavor we can tolerate.
If the feeling of plaque on our teeth bothers us, Colgate makes an alcohol-free mouthwash that prevents plaque buildup. Most dentists will not recommend using alcohol-based mouthwash because it can cause adverse effects. Fluoride mouthwash is also a great way to prevent cavities if brushing our teeth is a daily challenge. However, any dentist will say mouthwash is not a substitute for brushing.
Executive Function and Memory
We autistic adults can become easily distracted by our own inner thoughts and forget things we need to remember.
Setting reminders on our smartphones, tablets, or computers can help remind us to do our needed tasks.
Building a daily routine can help us remember to do things every day. If we do our tasks in the same order at the same times, we will be less likely to forget to do it.
Remembering Where Our Belongings Are
Keeping your items in one location can help you remember them.
As an example, if you carry a backpack or handbag with you when you leave your home, putting your keys inside the bag as soon as you get home can help keep you from losing them.
Setting items we need daily in the same place, and possibly in the same order, can help us remember where they are.
Losing our phones inside our homes can happen sometimes, and it can be helpful to have a smart home device that can ring our phones if we lose it.
These are just a few tricks to help us remember where we put our belongings, and to help remind us to do daily tasks.