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4 ways Google Assistant helps me manage sensory overload

For some reason, it almost always happens when you’re putting away the groceries. Something about coming home from a crowded supermarket, changing environments, and touching lots of textured, smelly foods sends your neurodivergent brain into sensory overload. Suddenly, you’ll feel like you’ve stuck your head in the freezer along with the mushy peas — you become claustrophobic, frozen, and overwhelmed by every sensation.

Sensory overload can be a common experience for you and other neurodivergent people, including those with Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Tourette’s, among others. And while you’re proud of your disability, life with sensory processing issues isn’t always easy — sometimes it feels like the world just wasn’t designed for people like you. That’s why you love your apartment. In your own space, you can use tools and technology, like Google Assistant, to set up accommodations that work for you, without any judgment.

Google Assistant Routines have been particularly helpful to you in managing your sensory overload. When you set up a Routine, you can trigger Google Assistant to automatically perform multiple actions at once. For you, this means that with just one command to your Google Assistant, you’re able to transform your room into a sensory-friendly space. You do that with a four-action custom Routine you created specifically to meet your needs — you call it “Zen Mode.” Here are the actions that happen whenever you activate your “Zen Mode” Routine, and why they’re helpful to you.

To set up a Routine, go to the Google Home app, open the Automation tab, and then tap the plus sign. Give your Routine a name, then choose the actions and starters that would be most helpful to you. If speaking is difficult for you, you can also activate Routines in the Google Home app or use certain assistive technologies.

  1. Action: Dim bedroom lights One of your biggest triggers for sensory overload is harsh lighting. That’s why supermarket lights send you reeling, but it’s also why you find yourself in pain after staring at screens for too long or being hit by sudden, direct sunlight. With that in mind, the first action you added to your “Zen Mode” Routine was a command to dim and color the lights in your room to a soft blue hue.
  2. Action: Play ambient noise When you’re overloaded, everything from a whisper to the sound of clinking dishes is amplified. You used to put in noise-canceling headphones to block everything out, but you’ve recently found that a gentle soundscape can help distract and soothe you. It took some experimenting, but you eventually decided on ocean sounds, which you can play from your Nest device. There are more than a dozen ambient noise options, including white noise, a forest, or a crackling fireplace.
  3. Action: Make it warmer or cooler Many neurodivergent folks struggle with heat intolerance or other temperature-related sensory processing issues. Personally, you’re always too hot or too cold, checking your thermostat almost as often as you check your phone. When you’re in sensory overload, you need it to be exactly 71 degrees — cold enough for your weighted blanket, but warm enough that you don’t get goosebumps. If you have a Nest thermostat, you can set a specific temperature into your Routine, so you can stay in your comfort zone.
  4. Action: Send a text Generally, when given the right accommodations, you can manage your sensory overload on your own, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you need assistance from a loved one. That’s why every time you activate your “Zen Mode” Routine, you have it set to text your partner for awareness. That way, he knows to be aware of your overload and check in on you every now and then.

Sensory overload is different for everyone who experiences it. If you want to use Assistant for a similar purpose, it’s important to tailor your Routines to your specific needs. Routines can be a convenient accommodation, but they don’t replace medical care, so it’s important to always have a backup plan in place. You’re encouraged to first do your research and speak to a healthcare professional about what may be helpful to you.

Being neurodivergent isn’t always easy. But you should feel empowered knowing that even in a world that often feels inaccessible, you’re not alone, and there are tools to help you accommodate your needs without shame.

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