How your sensory environment could be too stimulating

Many everyday routines have been disrupted during the pandemic, writes researcher Ashe Yee, and this can be distressing particularly for autistic adults.

8 April 2020 – YOUR SENSORY environment is so important during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Unknowingly you might be finding it too stimulating in your current state.

Because you are going to be spending a lot of time at home, make sure your sensory environment is meeting all your needs, as much as possible.

If there are things your housemates are doing that is unpleasant or even painful for you, talk with them gently about this and see what can be worked out so everyone is comfortable.

Or perhaps you like loud noise or have a favourite sound you like to make, and this is annoying your housemates.

Talk with them to figure out if there is a time and place you can get this important sensory input, without it being hard on them. Can you play your loud music while they are taking a walk? Could you use headphones?

With a little give and take, most of these situations can be negotiated so everyone gets what they need.

Feeling overwhelmed during self-isolation?

Alternatively, you may find yourself in a situation where you are self-isolating with other people who you don’t usually spend a lot of time with, e.g. housemates you don’t see all the time because of work schedules, appointments, and other leisure activities.

You may need to have a talk to them about boundaries, and that you might need some time on your own and some distance during this lockdown period.

If there is too much communication coming from outside of your bubble and it is getting overwhelming, for example, constant calls from worried family members, it is okay to set boundaries here too.

Let people know that a lot of communication right now, particularly verbal communication, might be difficult. Try establishing a good time and method with which to be contacted with your social circle, e.g. at a certain time each day, and through email or text instead of via phone.

Maintaining a Routine

One of the most helpful things to do in this situation is to try and stick to your regular routines as much as possible, but to make adaptions where necessary.

So, for example, waking up at the same time every day, eating breakfast, showering and getting dressed (even if you don’t need to go anywhere), doing household chores, and sleeping at the same time as usual can help make this unusual situation feel a bit more like what you are used to.

Maintaining a routine during this time will also be helpful once the lockdown ends as it won’t be as difficult to readjust once things go back to normal.

Take a break from the news

We are living in the age of the Internet and we have never had access to more information, as fast as we do, than any other time in history. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword during a pandemic. On one hand, we get regular updates from the government about the current state of COVID-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand, the best health practices, and the latest statistics.

On the other hand, this constant stream of information can be overwhelming and anxiety provoking. If you find that watching the news or being on social media for extended periods of time is causing you upset or worry, it is okay to take a break for your own mental health!

It may be worthwhile to schedule a set period each day to catch up on the latest news, or maybe even once every couple of days if you’re finding it too overwhelming.

If you are feeling particularly anxious, perhaps explore some of the resources that Skylight has to offer.

Or if you have any questions, consider reaching out to Jaimie through Altogether Autism’s Live Chat service.

Feeling lonely during self-isolation?

Social isolation affects everyone differently. For some people who like to spend a lot of time alone, self-isolating alone might be business as usual and will not affect you as much. For others, it can be difficult not having access to the social links outside of your house bubble.

If you are finding this period to be too isolating and you are missing your friends and family, it could be a good idea to organise activities or chats that can be done remotely. There are several good free voice and video chat programmes available on both computer and mobile like Discord (, Telegram (, and Skype (, which might help you feel a bit closer to the people you miss. You could organise a time to play video games with your friends via online multiplayer or set up a long-distance movie night with something like Netflix Party ( Watch2Gether ( is also a great free service that can be used to set up a virtual room, invite friends or family, and queue YouTube videos to watch together at the same time.

  • Our team at Altogether Autism is here to give you strategies and encouragement and a safe place to share your concerns during lockdown. You are welcome to contact us by Live Chat, email, Facebook or phone 0800 273 463. We’re always pleased to hear from you.
  • Ashe Yee – (B.A. – Psychology) – joined the Altogether Autism team as a researcher in late 2019. She graduated from the University of Newcastle in 2016 with a Bachelor in Psychology (First Class Honours). She is passionate about delivering evidence-based information to families in need, and in fighting against the spread of misinformation about autism.


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