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ADHD and Sensory Overload

Sensory overload happens when there is suddenly too much information for the brain to process. It is often associated with people on the Autistic Spectrum, but those with ADHD can be impacted too. The most common sensory information to cause overload are textures associated with food and clothing, as well as changes in routine and environment.

Someone living with the symptoms of with ADHD may be distracted and not be paying attention to the environment changes taking place. When they notice the environment again the information will appear random and unexpected, potentially resulting in sensory overload. This difficult situation could be compounded by the person’s individual challenges with flexibility and self-regulation.

ADHD and Sensory Processing are separate issues but can sometimes overlap and/or occur together, contributing to the inappropriate behaviours and learning responses displayed by children and adolescence with ADHD.

Both conditions, for example, can result in exclusion from the peer group, anxiety and possibly a low self-esteem but for different underlying reasons. ADHD creates difficulty with social rule following and people with ADHD can be perceived in a negative way by their peers. People with sensory processing difficulties will struggle to socialize as they have a larger personal space requirement and crowded, and noisy places will make them feel uncomfortable. Either way, these individuals are unable to process sensory information properly and may therefore produce inappropriate responses at school, home, and social settings resulting in difficulties with attention, emotions, and learning.

It is important to understand how the addition of sensory processing difficulties can cause sensory overload in someone with ADHD and to acknowledge how both conditions impact on the individual’s ability to adapt to daily situations, interact efficiently with their environment and participate positively in social and learning environments.

It may be beneficial to focus on these functional performance issues to improve the individual’s ability to learn, organise and maintain appropriate relationships.

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