Autism Spectrum Disorder, Clutter, and Sensory Overload
As the identification rate for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has recently been reported by the CDC as 1 in 59, there is hardly a family in the country who is not affected by ASD in some way.
Sensory overload is real and it stinks.
As one of the most noticeable identifiers of ASD is sensory sensitivity, it is reasonable to try and help those with an ASD diagnosis better function in their environment. For many, being overloaded with sensory stimuli is a primary trigger for a meltdown. If you’ve not seen a sensory meltdown, you are indeed fortunate. The individual retreats into their own world, and is unable to reconnect without finding some balance. Ironically, a sensory meltdown often includes high levels of sensory output – they are loud, big, and spectacular to behold.
As a young mother, I learned that my daughter had an ASD, previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. This diagnosis has since been changed to High-Functioning Autism. Sensory overload has always been difficult for her; she is affected strongly by visual and auditory stimuli.
Sensory overload rules a good part of our lives.
There are retail stores that I cannot take her to, since their displays are so overstimulating visually. One day, I stumbled onto a hopeful brainstorm that her messy school desk, disorganized room, and full closet were too overwhelming for her to think clearly. While not as spectacular as a full-blown sensory meltdown, she was unable to complete many tasks. I sent her to spend the weekend with her grandparents and proceeded to one of the most challenging weekends of my life.
When she returned, I’d moved all clothes into a spare closet, left a closet organizer with seven slots for an outfit for each day. Shoes were in a shoe hanger on the back of the door. I labeled everything so that she would be able to maintain the system, or so I hoped.
Create a workable sensory environment that can be maintained.
Truth be told, she couldn’t maintain it on her own as well as I had hoped at the start. You see, it wasn’t her system, so it was not meaningful to her and she had no dog in the fight to keep the system going. As many parents know, getting the children to buy into the system is as hard as creating the system itself. We tweaked it a bit, and after a year – yes a full year, she finally was able to maintain it herself.
As this reallocation of space for her things created some significant crowding in our already-crowded space, we needed to find another solution. We found a nearby San Mateo storage facility and were able to have a place for our ousted stuff. The staff of All American Self Storage in San Mateo has been nothing but helpful and our unit has been our lifesaver as we’ve tried to create a less-cluttered home to keep our daughter in a better place, sensory-wise.