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A scorching day in London gives an insight into Sensory overload

In some ways it was a good thing that I had to travel into central London on 25th July when temperatures reached 36.7 °C. I had meetings in air-conditioned offices and managed to travel home on an air-conditioned train unlike many unlucky commuters.

The next day when temperatures had dropped significantly, I travelled into London again to meet an autistic employee who I support as well as having a 1:1 meeting with her line manager. As Neurotypicals do, the manager and I indulged in some small talk about the searing heat of the day before. He told me how he had to work from home as otherwise his dog would have been shut up in a hot house all day.He went on to describe how unbearable it was at home, how hot and uncomfortable he was, how whatever he did he couldn’t get cool, how he couldn’t concentrate or focus and how he ended up achieving next to nothing.

At this point I smiled and commented “now you have some insight what it is like for an autistic person experiencing sensory overload”. Sensory overload is feeling totally overwhelmed by sensory input whether that be temperature, noise, light, smells or crowds. How the discomfort grows to a level that is unbearable leading to a loss of concentration and focus, to heightened anxiety and even to panic attacks. The only way to manage the overload is to remove the stimulus of move away from the environment.

The manager sat quiet for a few minutes and reflected. Then simply stated “Wow now I understand”.

This is one reason why making reasonable adjustment to the working environment to accommodate an autistic employee’ sensory needs is so important. Everyone on the autism spectrum will have individual needs, but most people will have sensory differences and these need to be understood and supported in the workplace.

Below are a couple of links that may help you understand what sensory overload



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