How to recognize overload.


I eventually want to do a video series of basically things I wish someone had shown or told me when I was a kid.

One really big one is how to recognize overload. I did have a few crude techniques worked out, but I didn’t know what they meant, or how to respond to them.

Basically, I carried certain objects that normally produced certain sensations. I had a necklace with piano wire in it that made soft bell-like noises. I had a scarf made out of multicolored criss-crossing ribbons. I had soft clothing.

The more overloaded I got, the more the soft bell-like noises turned into loud and obnoxious clanging that hurt my ears. The multicolored scarf became painful to look at rather than interesting. And the soft clothing turned to sandpaper.

So one good way to recognize overload, if you don’t have some other way, is to have some sort of object that you know what it’s like when you’re not overloaded. If it becomes more and more unbearable in some way, you’re getting more and more overloaded (and should probably find something to do about it).

(This would have been much better information than the information I got when I tried to indicate to an adult what was happening with the changes in the bell. She backed away and told me that there was something seriously wrong with me, and became distant after that.)


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

31 responses »

  1. That is both extremely interesting AND useful. My little guys have a variety of paraphanalia that they cart around with them all day, which I tend to refer to as their ‘talismen,’ not in the lucky sense, but in the comfort sense. This gives me a different insight. Cheers

  2. I wish there were a way to convince folks that tolerance of a particular sensation can vary depending on what the brain’s putting up with at any given time. I can generally recognize and deal with what my senses are doing to *me*, but it’s very, very trying to explain to somebody without offending them (or them thinking you’re outright lying) that, say, you enjoyed them hugging you yesterday but are extremely distressed by it today.

  3. One problem I have with recognizing overload and/or an impending meltdown/shutdown is that I’ve been conditioned, by parents/teachers/therapists/etc. to ignore or suppress the signs.

  4. what about ways to recognize overload in someone else who might not be able to tell you? I realize it’s totally different for everyone..just wondering how I can help my students the best. I know already when they need to get up and do something active, and we do that. but when they can’t/don’t vocalize what they need, sometimes I have trouble figuring it out just from their body language.
    I imagine the answer is probably just to get used to them more and more, and pay close attention. but perhaps you can provide some examples or others can jump in with their experiences? Just to get an idea of what it might be like.

  5. My external overload ‘thing’ is, presuming I’m still verbal (not always accurate), answering every question or statement with “no”, “I don’t know”, or “ok”. Usually it’s the same one, over and over. If I can at ALL get away with it, I WILL be upside down. The more right side up looks wrong, the closer to a shutdown or seizure I am.

    My synasthesia also gets seriously out of control when I’m overloaded, which may be why being upside down helps…I have to concentrate to stay in a handstand or headstand since I learned to do everything with proper technique, and it blocks some of outside out, & accesses senses that are just one sense at a time (vestibular & proprioceptive).

    Great project. I know I wish I’d known there WAS such a thing as overload (or synesthesia for that matter…) way before I did.

  6. With myself I have found it’s primarily noises that really let me know when things are getting too much for me. Somebody talking at a normal pitch starts to sound painful, too fast, too loud – even though they haven’t changed how they normally talk.

  7. Thank you so much for this useful information. I believe that when Griffin is overloaded he becomes a floppy ragdoll, I call it the “limp noodle” bit. He just flops his whole body to the floor and will not move. The only thing that I have a problem with is figuring out what it is that I need to do to help him cope with his overload. It seems to be a hit and miss sort of thing but we are still working on it day to day. Sometimes the proprioceptive will work and other times I just need to not touch him at all.

  8. “My external overload ‘thing’ is, presuming I’m still verbal (not always accurate), answering every question or statement with “no”, “I don’t know”, or “ok”.”
    That’s what happens with me, although “ok” is replaced with “fine”.
    When my son gets overloaded he lies on the ground wherever we are and can’t move, or he’ll sink to his knees.

  9. I know I am overloaded when I am so upset I can’t think.
    Or hearing, seeing, or people too physically close to me bother me.
    I can calm down with walks, dancing in the kitchen (with music or
    silently). Sometimes I stay in bed all day. Sometimes I make
    up tunes or chants spontaneously.

  10. I follow your rss feed on LJ, and I just had to come over to say Kudos. :) You’re really coming in handy for my Autism class, and I’ve been telling my teachers about you ever since we saw your video on youtube.

    You’re one of the most articulate folks I’ve found on the internet yet. ^_^

    As for the topic… totally understand this. About time I figured out why half my yarns seem to ‘turn’ on me once I get elbow-deep in my work. How to treat it seems to be another matter.

  11. i wish someone had understood that i really was hearing certain words or phrases repeated over and over inside my mind until they lost their meaning. i thought i was going crazy, because i was not able to explain it in such a way that any adult would take it seriously. i later heard that this could have been a kind of ‘mental echolalia'(?)… not sure if that is a real term or not.
    i would have liked it to go away, sometimes. but mainly, i think that if i had just known that this happens to some “people like me” sometimes, it would not have freaked me out as much.

  12. I find this very interesting and informative to try and view the world through another’s point of view. I think think this might help me understand how my wife can watch “Hunt for red october” when she is really overwelmed even though she has seen it 100 times. It’s familiar and comforting to her and not a new sensation. Thanks again for this site and the video.

  13. I can tell I’m getting overloaded when everything around me starts getting too bright and too loud. Rooms with people in them become rooms full of eyes – I stop seeing faces, and just start seeing this ocean of EYES EYES EYES around me. A lot of times, I can’t hear very well (or rather, even worse than I normally do – I’m partially deaf anyway) and I find myself rocking or flapping. In extreme cases I will have to go into my room, build a blanket cave on my bed, and hide in it.

    Like Fletchen, I’ve been conditioned to ignore the signs that tell me things are getting overwhelming, but I’m getting better at recognizing them again.

  14. You have a wonderful way of explaining things! Thank you! This “overload” explanation really does solidify how ‘stress’ manifests in others. We’ve all seen loved ones, friends, or colleagues get very ‘testy’ and suddenly hate things, or not want to be with people. (I just lost a relationship to his overload)…. I will follow your blog and look forward to learning more from you. Thank, you, Amanda.

  15. I walk past people without seeing them when I’m overloaded. I also miss seeing obvious things right in front of me, like big signs that say restroom or customer service. I get more jumpy than usual about sudden noises. A couple of times I’ve walked out in front of cars, neither seeing nor hearing them, because I was dazzled by neon signs and the chatter of people who were with me. I don’t really notice anything amiss, but other people comment on my being jumpy or missing big, obvious things like moving cars. I don’t know if I really look any different or not, when I’m overloaded. People just say they think I’m being snobby if I don’t greet them. (But I really don’t see them.)

  16. Other people out there get overloaded, too? I know I do, a lot. A whole lot. When there’s too much noise, or too many people, or it’s too bright. Or even, not that this makes any sense at all, when it’s too *quiet*. I just sorta…shut down, I guess. Get all tense (well, more tense than normal–I’m *always* tense) and start rubbing sometime, like whatever clothes I’m wearing or a nearby blanket or something. And a lot of the time I carry Flickablankie (an ancient–she’s as old as I am–stuffed unicorn who used to have a baby blankie tied to her, until I wore it out by rubbing it all the time) around with me. She helps keep me calm, ’cause she’s the only thing I’ve ever had that’s always been there, and she doesn’t change.

    I try explaining this to people, but they don’t or can’t (or won’t try to) understand. My fiance (we’re getting married this Saturday, on the 24th) seems to, though, somewhat at least. I guess that could be ’cause his brother is sorta like me.

    The part that’s hardest to explain, most of the time, though, is that it (the overloading, for instance) isn’t always (or even usually) something I can control. I wish I could, and I’ve been trying to for 25 years, but I can’t. Which gets people mad at me (like my mother, who’s abusive anyway), and that just makes it worse.

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. I find it interesting (and kinda…comforting? I don’t know if that’s the right word or not) that other people get or can get overloaded, too. I never knew that before.

  17. I am the mother of two little boys who hit “overload” at some point everyday – even with the blessing of being educated at home. We are working on ways to recognize when overload is coming on and finding ways to deal with it – it’s going to take time though – it’s hard for them to recognize hunger – let alone something as complicated as overload. I am not diagnosed with anything – but I have all the struggles my boys do and there are some situations I refuse to get myself into because of the danger of overload and the confusion it causees. Just going to stores by myself is usually too much – I almost always go with someone else – just to make sure I don’t get lost in all the echoes, lights, and colors – otherwise it can take me hours just to pick up one thing and find my way out of the store – and then there’s the danger of having to drive in that state!

  18. I don’t know any autistic people personally, but am nevertheless fascinated with the recent media reports about you which has led me to read your blog and some others you have linked to.

    This is what’s interesting to me: as far as I know, I am not autistic. But I certainly have experienced “overload” or something very much like what you have described.

    At other times, though, I have experienced what I consider to be the opposite: where I am so focused on one thing that I probably wouldn’t notice if my house were on fire.

    Do you ever experience anything like that?

  19. I am just learning about Autism because my husband is getting involved in fund raising for a particular school. I am curious what happens when someone gets overloaded and how does it feel? Thank you for all of the wonderful insight.

  20. I think this is interesting. Most of the time, I can recognize signs of an impending meltdown, but what should a person do if you are at work, about to melt down, and are not allowed to go home or take a break?

    People are not very accomodating, because I pass for a “weird” normal most of the time.

  21. The bits on sound getting far more jarring when overloaded actually make sense–if I’m stressy or really tired, sound (even normal sound) seems to be too loud, to give too much “pressure” on the ears, etc. Touch also tends to be physically painful at these times, and if I’m tired or stressed I’ve tended to devolve into “Engrish” when I talk (in that I will phrase things oddly, or be unable to remember the word and then describe what it does or its purpose in an attempt to “word” it–even last night, I forgot the word “frosting” (I was sick and dead tired) and asked my husband why he was eating “cake topping”, LOL).

    I’m hesitant to describe myself as autistic or aspie (never been “formally” diagnosed, though I think at least four people keep telling me I could be a textbook aspie, lol) but it IS things like this that I’ve noticed with myself that do make me seriously wonder at times.

    (And the musical wire thing–that’s one hell of an idea, thanks :D)

  22. I learnt to try to ignore people bugging me because the teachers kept saying ‘just ignore them’. Because of that, my brother will be unintentionally bugging me and I won’t realize it until suddenly I snap ‘stop it!’ at him. My parents tell me I get annoyed too fast, but I keep trying to tell them it’s just that I suppress annoyance until I reacxh my limit. I’ve been trying top reduce that, mainly by consciously noticing annoyance earlier and asking him to stop when I’m still calm enough to be nice about it.

  23. chamoisée, i think the usual way to get a break when you aren’t allowed is to pretend you are going to the restroom. not sure if that works in your kind of job.

  24. Getting a restroom break is what I did…I woudl go in the bathroom, turn all the lights off, and ball up in a corner (the pressure of the walls was comforting) and sometimes rock. It wasn’t enough to compensate for the stress of the job, though. I just quit/lost the job due to a catastrophic meltdown.

  25. I really liked this article. I thought that it put into plain writing exactly how bad some people’s overload can get. Whilst none of us quite get the same reaction to numerous people in our environment, too many of them around us for too much time will cause us to become less functional, or at least less comfortable. Their speech seems louder, their movements become more noticeable, and their presence is a distraction. I think that a lot of the problem with having too many people around is that unlike some other unwanted stimuli, you can’t necessarily control them or tell them all to leave your space.


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