Asperger's Diary

Life through the lens of Asperger's Syndrome.

The Uncounted Costs of Sensory Sensitivity

After decades of living as an autistic person, I'm still learning about sensory overload, and its unexpected consequences. Read More

Connection between the title and the story?

I am sorry for you pain. And it sounds familiar to me -- going in to an overwhelming situation knowing it will likely be too much for me because I have already committed to the course of action. But these are sunk costs and my action is based on fallacious reasoning, I am learning to turn back before I become overwhelmed.

I don't see the connection between the title of your story and the content, tho. Is there more to the story, perhaps a evaluation of the hidden costs and a suggestion about what you would like others to do differently. Is there something concrete you could say about the why understanding the effects of sensory sensitivity is important not just for those of us with it, but for others? Or? Well, the title did confuse me awfully much.

I can see that you wish you hadn't gone to buy the books and you are marvelously aware of the places when you could have turned away.

In Your Comment...

In your comment, you've called out the very costs I was talking about in the title -- the pain and neurological overload. The aftermath of the incident made me realize exactly how unaware the emotional and neurological costs were to me of such situations. It was one of those moments when I realize that as much as I have learned about autism, I'm still learning.

This is a post in two parts...the second will make the connection more clear.

:) It *is* painful. (I think

:) It *is* painful. (I think cost is a funny metaphor, maybe a little colder than what I feel? but I do take your point.)

On the other hand, knowing about these sorts of challenges means that soon you will have a special sort of map, you can decorate it any old way, but a map of the terrain. And the map makes you more powerful just in so far as you don't forget its limitations of course. Or better, just in case you have symbols for the known, the unknown and the unknown unknowns!

I enjoyed your article and I could say that I had an image of the library sale that came from my own map. The architecture of our local library feels like a "rat maze " from an old fashion psych lab. Plus the echoes and the chaos of many public spaces. My kids and I have to get pysched up to go there or we will fry and melt and sputter. It is lots better to have a map, at least for my kids and I. Then we are ready, but not too ready because we know it is just a map.

I have this experience every

I have this experience every time I try to go to the Library. An the librarian has told me "Oh no we're not able to enforce the quiet rule anymore it might be offensive" and I said what about Autistic people like me?' an she kindly pointed out that I aws the only person speaking loudly. because *I have trouble modulating my voice when I'm stressed* An I'm suppose to be tolerant of screaming kids racing around the shelves and smashing into people.An *I* get to be the socially intolerant person.

Library, different maps?

:) In some ways libraries were easier for me when they were more tightly controlled; but then I needed a map that let me know when the librarians who wouldn't let me read ahead of my grade level were on duty . . . I guess the map for NT folks has an icon for "easy for parents of young children" while my map adds one for "unless you are sensitive to noise." And the reason is (IMHO) tucked into the label "NT" -- typical, normal and socially acceptable are tightly intertwined ideas. Both are anchored up to the bell curve and thus by the numbers it is the atypical who must do most of the adjusting in social situations, especially in public spaces. If I think of it as different maps, it helps me. But I am sorry because I think the burden is on you (us) and I don't see how to shift it. Worse, I am not sure I don't like (in theory) the idea that kids are more free in libraries then they used to be. Though it is dashed inconvenient for me.

When I was a kid my library

When I was a kid my library was my refuge. And since nobody told me I was autistic, I was just a smart kid who, fortunately, WAS allowed to check out books beyond my grade level.But I treated the library like a library, not a day care center.
There is NO reason children should be running an yelling in a library.

I felt your pain

Reading that I felt your pain. It has happened to me so many times. Fortunately my ADHD medication can keep me from making my distress known, and may minimise my sensitivity.
I have severe sensory processing disorder and autism (not severe) and I get this as soon as I leave my house. I have to be extra vigilant especially since moving to the city. Sometimes I don't prepare and wonder why standing on a city street makes me feel sick. Oh, that's right. In goes the ear phones, on turns the iPod.
I've been in that same situation at a bookstore. There's a huge second hand bookstore in Newtown, Sydney. It's like a dreamland for book lovers but is overwhelming at the same time. I remember just finding a shelf of books and staring at one section of it.I see bookstores as my sanctuary too. When I lived in a smaller town I could go into them (and was known as a regular by the staff) to just get away from the chaos outside. I can't do that anymore.
If I do get under such distress that I have block my ears or vocalise 'too loud' I will. I don't care if I get odd looks. A meltdown is what I want to avoid.
Anyway, great article. It's important that more people learn about this. I'm not sure if they will start having an open mind but one can hope. I hope your part 2 goes into sensory overload. If you don't experience it the same as me I'll comment again.

Somebody sent me a comment

Somebody sent me a comment but I don't see it here!

This isn't limited to the library, we have a restaurant in our town where kids are free to pretty much do anything they want, including walking up to strangers and touching them. I don't go there anymore.

And what happens when it's out in the street?Here's some thing that happene right before xmas:

A great article. This sort of

A great article. This sort of situation can happen anywhere, not just a library. I tend to avoid busy, loud places like malls, stores, and restaurants because it can just be too overwhelming. I don't like to have to take on crowds. I also don't like too much sound or light because it's over stimulating. People have called me a 'party pooper', but I'm just trying to survive by avoiding places I know I shouldn't be at.

I can't go out without ear

I can't go out without ear plugs and sometimes even that doesn't work, it's painful and I lose skills quickly, I know how it's like to stay in a loud place with no escape, horrible, I wouldn't stand a second on that library and so sorry you had to suffered that.
It's dificult to have more awareness when we are the only ones feeling like that in our lives but we need to try to avoid more pain. Sadly others think this makes us more autistic when we try to be safe and self aware.

The world is often too sensational!

Oh yes! This is a topic that is so very important and not yet reached the level of awareness even close to what is needed. And estimated 85% of autistic people have significant sensory issues and many who are not autistic have sensory processing problems too. THANK YOU for your post.

I don't know why, but it

I don't know why, but it seems that library sales are always the most poorly planned events. I usually leave once I realize how crowded a situation is, but of course, it's not always possible to avoid it. I don't even go to the local farmer's market, which is a great loss for me, because you literally have to push past people, it's so crowded.

Noise is also a major problem. The last movie I went to, I had to leave near the end because the sound levels, which were already just tolerable, became so bad that I felt as if I was being physically struck. It's the first time I ever came near to panic because of a sensory problem. And there's nothing like trying to follow the conversation at a restaurant table when the whole room is so noisy that that you can't distinguish between voices.

The odd thing is that I had no idea what the cause of these problems was until I was in my 60s.

COmpletely off-topic- I'm

COmpletely off-topic- I'm interested in your name. I'm Qatana and you're Catana an we both seem to have discovered our autism "late in life"! (Pattern Recognition yay)

And yes, rooms full of people all talking at once, or people talking too loudly in "quiet places" _Like the library_.

Of course I also have trouble modulating my own voice so people assume I'm yelling at them when I'm either trying my damndest not to yell or am speaking like a robot because it's the only way I can keep my tone of voice under control.And people give me a hard time for it an then I get more frustrated & lose more control...

joqatana, I tend to speak

joqatana, I tend to speak softly, so I'm doubly lost in noisy places. I hate to raise my voice too much.

I love your phrasing of

I love your phrasing of "sound of their myriad overlapping conversations".

Sensory Overload

Several aspects of this story stand out indicating a problem with library staff.
1. Fire marshals would have closed this down, since there were far too many people in an enclosed area.
2. The crowd noise and the invasion of personal space would stress out most people in this case.
3. Any mob usually is controlled by emotions that run higher when there is competition for material objects just as with team sports.
A safe conclusion could be drawn that anyone would be on edge in the above uncontrolled situation.


I am nearly 50 years of age and until very recently I just thought I was weird or anti-social in that I can't stand crowds. I get very edgy and panicky and a big part of it is the noise. All those people babbling on to each other about irrelevancies just drives me insane. I also cannot stand being anywhere where lots of people are pushing against me in a confined space. It amazes me that other people can be totally comfortable in circumstances that make me feel anxious and panicked! I also hate public transport. Being squashed into a small space with lots of strangers, some with music playing, some on their mobile phones and others chatting loudly to each other! The only way I can cope is to listen to my MP3 through headphones loud enough to drown everyone else out. Even though the music is loud, it's pure and something I can concentrate on and even enjoy. It's a relief to know that there are other people in the world who see things my way and that I'm not weird or anti-social.

Both my 2 kids and I have

Both my 2 kids and I have this problem, and I learned long ago to stay away from noisy, overcrowded places, or limit visits to these places to an hour, max. I found your observation interesting about the delayed reaction to the sensory overload. It explains so much of our own overreactions after a sensory challenge. Thanks!

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I become extremely worn out

I become extremely worn out and tired at noisy, people-filled events like this. In cases of music concerts, I get more adrenaline or happiness from the music, so it helps counter-act the effects. But just a crowd of people shopping? Makes me crazy and overwhelmed. I need to go home and sleep. Same with noisy dinner parties. Not my thing!

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Lynne Soraya is the nom de plume for a writer with Asperger's Syndrome.


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