ADHD and sensory overload

By Amanda Morin

Food textures. The feel of certain types of clothing. Changes in routine. Sensory overload happens when something overstimulates one or more of the senses. There’s suddenly too much information coming in for the brain to process. It’s common in people with sensory processing issues. 

Many people associate sensory overload with kids who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But it can happen with other diagnoses too, like ADHD. Researchers are still looking into exactly why this happens. But they’ve found there are certain types of sensory information, like clothing and food textures, that are more likely to cause it.

Some ADHD symptoms — like trouble paying attention to what’s going on around you — may lead to sensory overload. When you’re not tuned in, sensory information can sneak up on you.

Imagine rushing to leave in the morning and suddenly realizing how late it is. In the two minutes you have, you grab the first shirt and pair of shoes you find and throw them on. But the shirt you grabbed has an itchy tag, and the shoes pinch your feet. Once you’re on your way, it’s too late. Your uncomfortable clothing has already created a sensory overload situation. 

There are also other reasons people with ADHD may experience sensory overload. Trouble with self-regulation can be a factor. So can struggling with switching gears (flexible thinking). 

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.