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Boy with autism experiencing visual sensory overload

Sensory overload is something that we all experience to a degree, but those with Autism Spectrum Disorder often also have a Sensory Processing Disorder or have sensory integration difficulties. This means autistic individuals tend to be more easily and more heavily impacted by sensory overload. This is a seven part series in which I will address the different types of sensory overload and help you identify them and find some solutions. This second blog post addresses visual sensory overload.

As one of the five senses, sight is one that many of us take for granted because it is so essential to our everyday lives and how we perceive the world.  Those suffering from visual sensory challenges see the world a little differently and often in a way that can be overwhelming to the senses.  Colors that to should blend in naturally with our surroundings can be received as fragmented and bright to someone with visual sensory processing disorder.

On the other hand, visual sensory processing disorders can significantly impair the quality of one’s sight by affecting their depth perception, which results in poor coordination and clumsiness. Difficulties are included on both side of the autism spectrum.


Individuals with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders may be hypersensitive to light and cover their eyesImagined being tuned in to 40 different TV channels.  Your brain is inundated with sensory information, with many bright colours and fragmented images for it to process.  This can occur anywhere, including everyday environments such as walking along the street, sitting in a classroom or shopping in a Wal-Mart.  What may seem like an uneventful activity for someone without sensory challenges may be a very stressful and unpleasant experience for someone suffering from a Visual Sensory Processing Disorder.  Young children can be especially overwhelmed during these scenarios because they already have trouble communicating their feelings and simply break down as a defense mechanism, which can result in meltdowns.

How do I identify hypersensitivity to sight?

Hypersensitivity to sight may result in avoidance of bright lights such as fluorescent lights and sunlight.  They may also complain of ‘fragmentation’, which is means they are seeing things as fragments and pieces rather than wholes.  For example, distorted vision could occur when looking at people’s faces and especially when viewing written words.  As a result, poor eye contact would also be a factor and staring at anything for an extended period of time would cause frustration.  Exposure to any of these will generally cause distress.

What techniques can I use to help someone who is hypersensitive to light?

  • For people who are hypersenvitive to light, including those with autism, cover bright lights with soft fabric covers
  • Wear Sunglasses
  • Reduce fluorescent lighting, replace with deep coloured bulbs instead
  • Use blackout curtains
  • Create a special workstation in the classroom, a space or desk with divides on both sides to block out visual distractions
  • Cover fluorescent lights with translucent fabric in soft colors



Individuals with autism or Sensory Processing Disorder may be visually hyposensitive and have trouble seeing wellVisual hyposensitivity is the opposite of hypersensitivity in that instead of extreme sensitivity, their sight suffers from a lack of clarity.  In these cases, objects can seem darker than they are or even lose the outline of their features.  Central vision may be blurred with a clear peripheral vision or exactly the opposite with central vision clear and a blurry peripheral.  Individuals with visual sensory processing hyposensitivity may even seek out bright lights, sunlight and reflections.

How do I identify hyposensitivity to sight?

Individuals who are visually hyposensitive tend to have a very curious attitude towards visual stimuli.  For example, constantly exploring new objects with their hands and repeatedly moving their hands and toys in front of their eyes.  Due to challenges accurately seeing certain things, the individual may have a lack of hand-eye coordination and depth perception as well.  For this reason, activities such as throwing and catching would prove to be quite difficult.

What techniques can I use to help someone who is hypo sensitive to sight?

For people with visual hypo sensitivity including those with autism, help them learn by feeling objects
  • Visual aids and representations
  • Line drawings and colored pictures to aid in learning process
  • Real objects for them to feel with their hands and assist with their sight




If you liked this article, check out these:

             Goofy falling from Proprioceptive Dysfunction                                       Lady being sensitive to auditory sensory overload

What is Proprioceptive Dysfunction?                        What is Auditory Sensory Overload?



  Baby with Tactile Dysfunction biting a table                                        What is Olfactory Dysfunction?

What is Tactile Dysfunction?                                    What is Olfactory Dysfunction?

Written by Monica McMahen — March 30, 2015

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