Even Superman Struggles with Sensory Overload

Superhero Boy Flying In Space

My husband and I went to go see the new movie “Superman: Man of Steel” tonight.  I really enjoyed it.  It’s a new, fun twist off of the basic Superman story, and it’s well made.  If you’re into superhero action movies, it’s a good one to see.  In fact, if you’re an SLP, a professional who works with children with Autism, or a parent of a child with Autism, I highly recommend that you go see this movie.  Why, you ask?  Well, there’s a great little flashback scene of Clark Kent as a boy where he’s in his classroom and his teacher asks him a question.  Clark seems to not be paying attention, and his teacher has to repeat the question.  All of a sudden, the scene changes, and the audience is given a view of the world through Clark’s eyes and ears.  And it’s a CRAZY world.  He can hear every tiny, insignificant sound within a large radius, and his perfect, x-ray vision can take in the smallest detail.  Soon, it’s too much sensory information for poor little Clark, and he runs screaming from the classroom with his hands covering his ears, and hides himself in a closet.  His concerned teacher and curious classmates follow him to try to talk him out of the closet.  He refuses, of course, and the children start asking why Clark acts so funny, all of which Clark can hear from inside the closet.  After no success, the teacher is forced to call Clark’s mother.  Once she arrives, his mother begins talking to Clark, and he tells her that “the world is too big Mom,” to which she replies, “Then make it smaller.”  She then encourages him to focus on her voice until everything else disappears.  After a few minutes, Clark feels better, and comes out of hiding.

As soon as I saw this scene, I thought, wow, that looks familiar!  I’ve only seen that scene about a hundred times with my Autism kids at school!  It seems like there isn’t a day that goes by without one child with Autism having a meltdown in the classroom.  Usually, these meltdowns are directly related to sensory over stimulation, and it gets to a point where the child just can’t take it anymore.  Most of these meltdowns require sensory intervention before the child can return to classroom activities.  These poor children with Autism live in such a different world from you and me, and it’s nearly impossible for us to imagine!  That’s why I loved that scene so much.  It gives a very small, yet powerful glimpse into what children with Autism deal with every day of their lives.

So go see the movie, and next time you’re working with a child with Autism, remember that scene.  If they start to act out, look around you.  What are you able to tune out that they find impossible to ignore?  How can you limit auditory, visual, and tactile distractions to make their world just a little less chaotic?  Limiting distractions will greatly enhance quality of life and the ability to learn for these children, and episodes of “acting out” will probably decrease too.

Until next time,

Aersta Acerson

A Utah Speech Therapist

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