The Hope Source
autism and environmental overstimulation

autism and overstimulation

The Purple Philosophy

Autism and Environmental Overstimulation

Whether you have a child or know someone on the spectrum, understanding a few things about autism and environmental overstimulation is crucial to a successful interaction. Environment can make or break an individual’s success. If a child with autism is struggling to engage or is escalating into fight or flight, before you respond consider the surroundings.

Take a look around…what is the surrounding environment like? Are you in a busy or high traffic area? Is it noisy? Are there other people around? Is it possible the lights too bright? Do the walls contain images filled with colors and words and pictures? Can people pass through at any moment? Is the ceiling high and echoey? Might there be background noise that is distracting like a loud fan, a noisy appliance or a buzzing light fixture? Any or all of these factors can increase anxiety and aggression for someone on the spectrum which impacts the ability to learn or remain regulated for quality engagement.

When you are teaching a skill or even just engaging with someone on the spectrum, it is crucial to start in a low-stimulatory environment. Of course what is “low-stim” for one person is going to differ and be somewhat specific to each individual. One person may be able to handle a moderate amount of background noise while being highly put off by light or smell, for example, and another person may be extremely sensitive to noise. You must know the person with whom you are seeking to engage. If you do not know him or her very well, always choose the least stimulating environment.

Don’t forget that you are stimulating, too. Your mannerisms, way of speaking, tone of voice, your overall demeanor and affect are all factored into the equation. So, when with someone on the spectrum, keep verbal communication to a minimum. As they begin to grow competent in the role or skill you are teaching, even if it’s just turn-taking in a general conversation, gradually increase the complexity of the environment over a period of days, weeks or months depending on the individual.

Want to read more?

  1. To read the latest THS posts, go here:
  2. To learn more about how we set up our environments, look here:
  3. For information about the Dynamic 12, click here:

The Purple Philosophy: Social Communication 

When it comes to ASD and social communication, supporting social interaction is an important piece of the puzzle. At The Hope Source, we recognize that offering safe, supportive opportunities for students to engage in age-appropriate peer interaction facilitates growth and leads to competence. Fostering social competence is reliant on honing the skills of social referencing and reciprocity.
In order to engage in a social interaction, a person needs to be able to take another’s perspective and adjust the interaction accordingly. One of the challenges faced by individuals with autism is an overall lack of awareness of the feelings and emotional states of others and failure to pick up on nonverbal cues like facial expressions, inflection and intonation of voice.
We often see that a child or adolescent on the spectrum is failing in traditional school environments, not because of academic content, but because the social environment and demands in social cognition and social communication are so high.
Individuals with ASD often do not understand why friendships are not developing or how to recognize and repair the breakdown. This leads to anxiety surrounding school and thus, impacts academic success. By creating an environment in which students on the spectrum can explore peer interaction and develop academic skills, The Hope Source and Dynamic Minds Academy offers the best of both worlds!
Aristotle knew and we agree; Both are critical to education and long term quality of life.


Want more information? Here’s a start:

  1. To read the most recent Purple Philosophy blog post, click here:
  2. For more information about social communication and how it relates to autism and the D12, click here:
  3. To learn how to use simple games to practice nonverbal communication with your child, click here:




Game Time! 

This is a revisit of a Facebook post we made way back in 2013 but it’s a good one!

Try these fun, nonverbal games/activities with your family to practice and strengthen your child’s ability to “read” others’ nonverbal cues and communication:

Charades: try acting out different emotions to help your child interpret your body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

Name that Face: you could practice the skill of interpreting others’ facial expressions in a variety of ways.

Peek-a-Boo with a twist: Hide your face and reveal a different expression, giving your child time to process and label the emotion being expressed.

Facial Expression Sort: Have a pictorial collection of faces expressing a wide range of emotions (magazine clippings would work great) and sort through the faces, categorizing them by the emotion expressed.

Mirror Me: Use a mirror so both you and your child can see your faces. Take turns making a facial expressions that the partner practices matching.

Family Feelings: Take pictures of each of your family members expressing several different emotions. Print off the pictures and create collages or posters for each emotion. To extend the activity further, list different scenarios in daily life that make you feel that emotion.

Have fun! We’d love to hear about your experience so comment below!

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