In Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Christopher simply states, “I see everything.” In this, he encapsulates the problem many autistic individuals have filtering the information around them.
In some cases, higher-functioning autism is misdiagnosed as ADHD – and for good reason. With both cases, you have what appears to be a general lack of focus in highly stimulating environments, but the root causes are different. With ADHD, the brain has difficulties focusing in on any one stimulus at a time and begins cycling through various points of attention in the environment – both external and internal. With autism, the brain has problems prioritizing stimuli, and it tries to simultaneously process too much information, resulting in a jumble of inputs.
Every autistic child will likely have one sense that is more prone to this than others. Sight and hearing are the most common. In any setting where there is a lot of aural or visual stimulation, it is a good idea to begin monitoring any children you have with autism. If the brain becomes overwhelmed in its attempts to simultaneously process everything, the child may go into a social seizure. If you see signs that a meltdown is imminent, it’s a good time to utilize any safe spot you have determined for that child.
Too many inputs can create a state of confusion within the mind of an autistic individual. I had one student once tell me, “I don’t like it when everyone talks at once. It stops making sense.” It may be difficult, but if you have an autistic student or child, be aware of the amount of information that may be flooding the child’s senses, and look for ways to regulate that stimulation when possible.