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Drowning in a Sensory Meltdown

To everyone living with or working with neurodivergent individuals, I feel the need to share this personal experience of how a sensory meltdown feels (for me). Please learn from it.

As I write this, my hands are shaking, I’m unable to speak, and tears are streaming down my cheeks.

Why? It may be hard to believe.

I woke up with a brain fog today. I felt as if my senses were disorganized and hypersensitive.

I started cooking dinner. Everyone around me was going about their business, cooking, cleaning, and enjoying listening to music.

The music that was initially played at a quiet volume had gradually become louder and louder, with a higher pitch and faster beat. The speaker was in close proximity to me, but I thought I was okay.

And then I wasn’t. I started telling myself that the song was almost over, and in about 10 minutes, I would finish my part of the cooking and would move to a quiet space. I thought I could handle it. And being that the people around me were getting irritated because I had already asked them to turn down the volume twice, I decided to shut up and try to bear it.

It was a mistake.

I suddenly felt as if a tidal wave hit me over the head and encompassed my entire body. I had no place to run, no way to turn off the fight/flight/freeze response that had gone into full swing. And I snapped.

The people around me were incapable of understanding why I couldn’t just put on ear defenders and get on with it or why I couldn’t just ignore it instead of making everyone else have to comply with my needs.

Folks, there is no controlling a sensory meltdown. And ear defenders lower volume but don’t prevent the sounds from entering my bones or setting my brain on fire.

Sensory meltdowns suck. And we can’t reason with them.

Please, neurotypicals, even if it doesn’t make any sense to you, try to understand.

Don’t ever underestimate how awful it feels. And don’t assume that because you have never had such an experience, it doesn’t exist. It is absolutely unstoppable and engulfs one’s entire being.

The frustration of being unable to explain how it feels leads to feelings of isolation and sadness. As if I am being unreasonable.

I am not being unreasonable.

I am in the midst of a sensory meltdown.

Don’t shout at me when it happens.

And give me some peace and quiet until it passes.

If you are neurotypical, please be sensitive to those who aren’t- so they won’t have to experience things like this.

Don’t make us face such lonely helplessness- because it is absolute helplessness.

And for all of you parents, professionals, and therapists out there, don’t ever force someone to cope with such situations. And don’t treat sensory situations as behavioral issues. It will definitely cause PTSD.

If I, an adult fully aware of what is happening, am incapable of handling it and feel traumatized- what would a child in such a situation feel?

I imagine- as if the world was disappearing around them with nobody to help.

And we must help.

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Jacki Edry

Jacki Edry

Jacki Edry is a graduate of Hampshire College and has an extensive background in education, writing, and marketing. She has been exploring the world of autism and neurodiversity for over thirty-five years. 

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