Mugged By Sound, Rescued By A Waitress

You walk into a room. There are people there, cars outside, dogs, phones ring, the radio is on, somebody coughs; it's the pleasant blur of a busy world, until something, someone catches your attention. Then you lean in, the other sounds fade back, and you focus. That's how listening works — for most of us.

But not for everybody. In this video, from Los Angeles animator Miguel Jiron, you will meet a boy for whom the dishes keep rattling, the water keeps dripping; he can't push the background sounds back; he can't focus. He's overwhelmed. When he gets frightened, he tries to escape, but when you're on the street, where can you go?

In this richly imagined animation, which jumps from film to drawings, from pens tapping, sodas being sucked, kettles whistling, to the boy's feeling penned in, you feel — for just a minute — what it's like to be in what's called "sensory overload."

And then, in the quietest way, someone notices.

What I like the best about the end is the waitress doesn't touch the boy. That would be too much. Instead, she sets the book bag next to him, and lets him be.


Miguel Jiron's video was featured this week at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York. He calls it Sensory Overload, and it's part of the Interacting With Autism Project — a government-sponsored effort to build an interactive, video-intensive website to focus on the best available treatments for autism. This condition is very familiar to people with Asperger's syndrome as well. On a website, I found this comment from a Vermont woman named Rachel:

Two days before I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, I emailed a friend and described the experience of sensory overload:

"I'm flooded constantly by other people's energy, by sounds, visual images, everything. I can walk into a room and feel all the emotional energy in the room, but it's completely undifferentiated. I'm unable to translate facial expressions or body language. I'm unable to filter anything out. Everything comes in, but my brain can't parse it fast enough ... I become very disoriented and overloaded. I say too much, or stumble over my words, or simply feel paralyzed and mute."

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