Still accepting mid-year enrollments! - 
Learn more
Menlo Park: (650) 321-0550   
Burlingame: (650) 437-2633

Sensory Overload in Teenagers: Recognizing the Unique Challenges

Happy female student doing online learning

Sensory overload happens when sensory input—sounds, sights, smells, touch, and taste—floods the brain, making it difficult to process sensory information and respond to stimuli. This condition can lead to stress, anxiety, and other emotional responses.

While sensory overload can affect anyone, it is more common in those with heightened sensory perception.

This includes teens and adults with:

  • Autism
  • ADHD
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Down syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • PTSD

Common Causes of Sensory Overload in Teenagers

The triggers for sensory overload vary, but examples include:

  • Loud noises
  • Bright lights
  • Crowded, busy environments
  • Strong smells or flavors
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Certain textures or types of physical touch
  • Frequent sensory input from smartphones or computers

Some things can also increase sensitivity and make sensory overload more likely, like academic pressure, stress from social dynamics, or sudden changes in routine.

How Sensory Issues Impact Teens' Lives

Dealing with sensory issues can affect every area of a teenager’s life. In school, poor concentration can affect their academic performance, while sensory-rich areas like cafeterias or gyms can be overwhelming. Public spaces like crowded malls or loud events can trigger sensory issues, hindering social activities and leading to distress and avoidance of these environments.

At home, misunderstandings about a teen's reactions to sensory overload can strain family and friend relationships. This can cause isolation and negatively impact their emotional and social growth. Without support in their teenage years, it can be hard to prepare for life as a young adult.

How To Recognize Sensory Overload in Teenagers

Teacher and student working together

Sensory overload creates a variety of symptoms including:

  • Difficulty concentrating: This may appear as an inability to focus on tasks at school or home.
  • Withdrawal from social interactions: Teens might retreat from social activities to reduce sensory input.
  • Physical symptoms: These might include headaches, nausea, or increased heart rate.
  • Emotional outbursts: Overwhelmed teenagers may suddenly cry, yell, or meltdown. They might also do the opposite, shutting down and barely responding.

What It Might Look or Sound Like

Here are a few real-world examples of how an overloaded teen might act or speak:

  • Complaining about itchy or uncomfortable clothing
  • Covering their face, eyes, or ears
  • Resisting new foods or preferring just a few food choices
  • "It's too loud/bright in here!”
  • "Everything feels too close together.”
  • “I can’t handle all of this!”

How To Help a Teen With Sensory Overload

There are several strategies that can help manage sensory issues in teens:

  • Create a calm environment: Use of dim lights, quiet spaces, and uncluttered areas can help.
  • Use sensory tools: Items like headphones to block out noise or fidget tools to occupy hands can reduce excess sensory input.
  • Have structured routines: Having predictable patterns daily can provide a sense of security.
  • Teach self-regulation techniques: Skills like deep breathing or guided imagery can empower teens to manage their sensory experiences.
  • Find alternatives that work for them: Choosing strategies that accommodate their sensory needs, such as personalized education, can reduce overwhelm and improve overall well-being.
  • Encourage open communication: Foster an environment where teens feel comfortable expressing themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed and need support.

Though it may seem daunting, the key to success is to try different strategies until you find the ones that work for you and your teen.

Important Things to Remember

When supporting a teenager experiencing sensory overload, keep the following in mind.

Teens who get emotional or shut down when overloaded are not just being disobedient or disrespectful.

Shutdowns and emotional outbursts are often involuntary natural defenses in the face of overwhelm. Though they can be disruptive and difficult to handle, these responses aren’t signs of willful disobedience or disrespect.

If a teen is struggling with sensory issues at school, it’s not because they aren’t trying.

Struggles at school related to sensory overload are not due to a lack of effort, but because they’re struggling with their heightened sensitivity. Showing empathy and finding effective academic strategies can help with this.

Teens need accommodations and management strategies, not fixing.

Accommodations for teens with sensory overload should be about leveling the playing field, not fixing them as if they are broken. This gives them the same opportunity for success as their peers, affirming their value just as they are.

The most powerful thing an adult can do is show patience and understanding.

Teens with sensory processing issues thrive when supported with patience and understanding. This supportive environment fosters trust and encourages their growth and well-being.

Student-Centered Learning Works With Your Teen, Not Against Them

Student centered learning at Lydian Academy

At Lydian Academy, we recognize that traditional teaching methods do not fit every learner, especially those who experience sensory overload. Our student-centered approach tailors learning environments and strategies to meet the individual needs of each student.

We provide:

  • Flexible scheduling: We allow students to learn at times when they feel most capable.
  • One-on-one instruction: Teachers can focus on individual students and adapt their lessons to minimize their sensory triggers.
  • Customized learning plans: We consider sensory sensitivities to create environments where students can learn without being overwhelmed.

By building education around the student, Lydian Academy helps teens manage sensory overload while achieving the success they deserve. We believe in creating a supportive, adaptable learning environment that respects each student’s sensory experiences and helps them thrive academically and personally.

Contact us today to explore how our unique structure and educational approach can benefit your teen.

We offer a unique year-round one-on-one learning experience, personalized to you and your schedule.

Stay up to date with all things Lydian Academy

envelopemap-marker linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram