Five ways to reduce overstimulation on the ride to school
Written by Aylin Cook
For children and teens with autism , it’s not always possible to “ignore” overwhelming sights, sounds, smells, and textures. While not all people on the spectrum experience increased sensitivity, many do.
When people are overstimulated, they may react in a variety of ways. Some common responses include irritability, restlessness, stress and anxiety, increased sensitivity to other stimuli, and a desire to cover up eyes and ears.
In this article, we’ll dive into five different ways caregivers and transportation providers can reduce overstimulation factors, whether on a school bus, during carpool, or in a private car.
For students who are overstimulated by unwelcomed, loud, or repetitive noises, a pair of noise-canceling headphones—or even earplugs—can really help. These devices help eliminate or reduce noises that can overwhelm children.
Even in private cards where a music-free, shouting-free experience is possible, the right gear can help providers prepare for the unexpected. (Think sirens, honking horns, or even the usual hustle and bustle of traffic.)
Sunglasses—or even eyeshades
Sunglasses or eyeshades can help students sensitive to stimulation block out much (or all) of their vision. This is especially key in a rowdy setting (like a school bus) or a light-filled one (like the afternoon sun.)
If selecting eyeshades, work with the child ahead of time to ensure the item’s fabric, color, and size is acceptable. These tools only work if students tolerate them, so prepare to test out a few options before settling on one.
The right hat can help reduce visual input while offering children a little bit of privacy. Wide-brimmed hats like sun hats work well, but if a kid is more comfortable wearing their favorite ballcap, go for it. What’s most important is their comfort—and willingness to use the tool at all.
Chair pads or seat covers
Another thing to watch for: stiff, scratchy, or otherwise uncomfortable seating. Whether it’s a school bus bench or a stiff passenger seat, think about how these spaces could be made more accommodating to kids with tactile sensitivities.
One thing to keep top of mind: safety. Consult each vehicle’s manual or manufacturer before altering seats. And never add any cushioning to a car seat or similar device.
Finally, keeping school buses and private cars clean can help children feel less overstimulated, too. Some students are sensitive to surfaces that are overly sticky or dirty. Keeping vehicles tidy can go a long way.
One easy trick: keep a pack of water wipes in the vehicle, and wipe down surfaces before the student embarks. Just be sure to avoid scented cleaning products, which can be overstimulating, too.