Visualize and assess 25 ADHD traits and understand how they affect your life.Learn more
ADHD & Sensory Overload: Extreme Reaction To Stimuli
Someone diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may find it hard to handle and manage their emotions well. That much is quite clear to many people. After all, ADHD & Emotions are two things that can be hard to juggle perfectly. These things are made from fragile materials that, once mishandled, can significantly affect the person. But there is another thing that can be hard to manage when you have ADHD 🤔: the brain's reaction to external sensory stimuli.
ADHD Traits, such as hyperfocus, extreme forgetfulness, and blurting out answers, are some of the things people with this neurodevelopmental disorder tend to have. But there's another ADHD symptom that is often mislooked and can be misunderstood: Sensory Overload. This can happen when the brain's sensory processing is greatly affected by noise, smells, or other stimuli. In other words, something or several things overstimulate at least one of our senses 😵. It can be a natural condition, but it's not something to be taken with a grain of salt.
Some people with ADHD may experience sensory overload, affecting their daily lives. Sensory triggers can set off adverse reactions to someone who has ADHD. They may have a drastic emotional response when their senses are repeatedly triggered.
Why Do We Experience Sensory Overload?
First, we have to understand this ADHD symptom and why some people with ADHD experience sensory overload.
A neurotypical person's sensory input is usually “more normal” than that of someone who has to deal with ADHD. For instance, while a neurotypical person won’t mind the mild scent of vanilla or lavender 🍃, someone with ADHD may find it very, very distracting.
Several studies attempted to explain the origin of sensory overload in some people with ADHD. Some of them believe it has something to do with sensory processing and executive functioning of an ADHD brain.But, how does ADHD Affect Executive Function?
A neurodivergent brain may have a “weaker” executive functioning, which means a person with ADHD may not do too well on mental activities involving working memory, focus, self-control, emotional regulation, planning, decision making, and organization. All these can already affect how a person receives and processes stimuli, but here’s the thing: a study pointed out that there’s a strong association between executive functioning and sensory processing (the manner by which we receive, process, and respond to stimuli).
That’s why sensory overload can be experienced by someone with ADHD, especially when too many things are going on in their environment 😵. Experiencing sensory overload is challenging, but it can also come with emotional and physical symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Take our fun online quiz to visualize your ADHD traits and learn more about your brain!TAKE THE FREE TEST
Examples of Sensory Processing Issues to People with ADHD
There are different types of sensory information that can trigger sensory overload. Every person's responses depend on how their ADHD brain processes these common triggers. Some may not be over-responsive to strong smells or bright lights, while others may react negatively to even the slightest of stimulus.
Sensory Processing Treatment and Research Center categorizes environmental factors and sensory experiences based on where the sensory processing difficulties take place.
Visual sensory experiences happen in the eyes. Sensory overload may occur when you see colors, patterns, and light 💡. Overstimulation can be experienced with extremely bright lights that irritate a person, or if there are flashing lights, such as strobe lights that affect your vision. Smartphone screens and TV can also affect you and cause sensory overload.
Auditory issues pertain to sound heard by the ear or through other devices. This includes noises in public places, loud sounds, alarms, etc. It is not limited to loud music 🎹 that causes sensory stimulation; it can also be caused by subtle ambient noises such as scratching, tapping, or squeaking that can irritate someone with ADHD. But usually, machinery with loud sounds, like construction works, are the primary sources. ADHD & Sound Sensitivity can affect a person causing them to be under-responsive when talked to during these situations.
Tactile issues mostly come from the feeling experienced by your sense of touch. Tactile sensory experiences can be felt by touching things that are rough, sticky, or annoying in texture. The response of an ADHD brain to tactile processing is often to have allergic reactions, especially when it is about something an individual with ADHD has to deal with daily.
Have you ever experienced wearing a new dress with an itchy tag still intact? The feeling of the tag touching my skin sends chills and discomfort. Sensory overload occurs as well when personal space is invaded. Some adults with ADHD don't like the idea of being too physically close to someone.
The issue with oral sensory integration is when there is an over-response to the sense of taste, the mouth feels too dry, or something tastes terrible. Common symptoms of overstimulated sensory information are oral fixation, teeth grinding, and jaw clenching caused by food textures. If not managed well, this sensory overload can cause other disorders related to eating. Aside from that, don’t forget that ADHD & Diet are also highly connected.
Common symptoms when sensory inputs greatly affect the sense of smell are allergies, migraines, and nausea. There are also cases where the person is overly sensitive to faint smells. It can also be caused by sudden changes in the concentration of odors around someone with ADHD. Pollens, dust, and perfumes are just some of the familiar sources of physical discomfort.
ADHD & Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory overload occurs when the brain cannot filter out and organize incoming stimuli. Anyone can experience it, but some people with ADHD struggle more with sensory processing, which means they receive too much information and have difficulty sorting them all out, resulting in an emotional outburst that can affect people around them 😭. When sensory overload cannot be contained, it can lead to a much bigger problem, like Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD.
Sensory Processing Disorder might result from an impaired neurological system, meaning the person has trouble sorting out stimuli. Excessive or deficient sensory processing can cause emotional outbursts that have a negative effect on the person involved and people around them. Due to its reported effects, Sensory Processing Disorder might contribute to the development of other disorders, such as anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, and depression.However, please note that SPD is not yet a recognized clinical diagnosis.
Still, it is crucial to seek professional help 👩⚕️ and guidance when experiencing sensory triggers. To detect symptoms, you just have to pay attention to your five senses and how they respond to the stimuli fed to them. Remember to consult your occupational therapist on how to manage sensory processing disorder.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Guide to Sensory Overload
Experiencing sensory overload and managing the sensory overstimulation happening with plenty of ADHD symptoms might be overwhelming for some adults with ADHD. The symptoms of sensory overload may be evident, but its treatment depends on your willingness to accept sensory integration, to make every trigger less impactful.
Here are the tips that you can do to better adapt to sensory overload and its overwhelming sensory input:
- List down all the things that trigger your sensory overload 📝. This will enable you to understand more about what you’re going through regarding ADHD and Sensory Overload.
- Do a systematic review of all the things that trigger sensory overload. Observe and write down the sensory issues you feel and what sensory processing problems you are struggling with.
- Don't try to fight the sensory processing of your brain. Have flexible thinking 👌. Instead of getting rid of the sensory input that you feel, adapt and adjust according to the need of the sensory information.
- Remember that competing sensory information may only cause further sensory overload and processing problems, resulting in other negative responses and behaviors. Hence, try to limit the stimuli you are experiencing.
- Self-regulation and self-soothing 😘 are processes that enable you to modify and control your sensory processing problems and ADHD symptoms. They allow you to get back to your original comfortable state.
- The treatment for sensory overload is not a fast-fixing medication, but occupational therapy, which can guide you to adapt and manage your ADHD symptoms. If paired with the right professional, this will help you understand and manage your sensory processing struggles.
- Consider a sensory diet where you’ll perform a series of activities that can help you better focus and develop healthy adaptive responses.
Managing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Sensory Overload can be particularly challenging. But with proper determination and self-help strategies, symptoms of sensory overload can be manageable. Coping mechanisms should also be under your belt to fight ADHD and the daily struggles of sensory overload. ❤️
ADHD and Sensory Overload: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).
What is sensory overload?
Sensory overload occurs when at least one of your senses gets overwhelmed with sensory inputs. Any person can experience sensory overload, depending on their sensitivity or experience. For instance, your friend may be okay with hearing tapping sounds while you find it extremely annoying.
Do people with ADHD experience sensory overload?
Some do. In fact, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the conditions highly associated with sensory overload. Experts say it might be because ADHD affects the person’s executive functions.
How do you fix overstimulation of the senses in ADHD?
The first step is to understand and manage your symptoms as best as you can. You see, some symptoms of ADHD may contribute to overstimulation of senses. For instance, the presence of numerous distractions can overload the brain. In this scenario, you can try to limit the distractions around you. Of course, getting in touch with a healthcare expert will also be of great help.