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Autism: Is It Anxiety or Is It Sensory Overload

A young black woman with glasses and green shirt against a light blue background. She is pressing her fingers to her cheeks and temples with her eyes closed.
Image by master1305 on Freepik

I recently interviewed Jamie Roberts, a therapist for neurodivergent teens and young adults. She has also written the book, Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety Jamie relates well to her clients, as an autistic ADHDer herself. We had a meaningful, fun chat about autism, overload, finding the right therapist, mindfulness, and so much more. Below is a portion of our conversation.

Anxiety vs. Sensory Overload

As someone who has been through it herself, Jamie shares that many of us feel what we think is anxiety, but it's actually sensory overload. It's overstimulation or we've run out of "spoons" for the day. If we can identify what leads to this overload, it's easier to figure out what the coping mechanism is or what our threshold is. Here you can help yourself see that it's not necessarily that you are anxious, but that you are overstimulated.

Says Jamie, "Okay, so when I'm overstimulated. Where do I need to go to decompress or reduce the stimulation in my environment? What's the other driving factor that can help us kind of differentiate what we're experiencing. That it's not all nervousness or panic but there may be something under there that's upsetting me. It can just be there's too much happening. I think as we understand that it's easier to categorize and cope with and then it's not as triggering."

Responses to Anxiety

"Our nervous system and our animal brain are the parts that automatically respond to threats in the environment and that's where it comes in with fight, flight, freeze and fawn," Jamie goes on to explain. She states that, "those are the automatic responses, we don't really have control over that response and we can't really predict what our response is going to be."

"If I am triggered, my body's natural response is to go into hyper-arousal and have that anxiety or anger response or go into hypo-arousal which is the freeze response or it can look like depression and then fawning is in that area too. So, if we can naturally see where our regulation is going if we're triggering and disregulated in either of these categories: fight, flight, freeze or fawn versus our okay zone," stated Jamie. (listen to our interview for more on this and masking)

Jamie's Recommendations for Finding a Therapist

"There is a great database called One of the criteria is you have to be neuro- divergent yourself and be a therapist to be in the directory.

Psychology Today is the biggest database, but anybody can check the box to say they work with autistic clients."

How to find out if therapist is right for you

When you call a therapist, ask very specific questions. You're interviewing the therapist as much as they're interviewing you.

Some questions

What is your view on neurodivergence or self-diagnosis? What are your interventions? You can look for a good fit. Will this affirm my neurodivergence or will this increase some of my neurotypical masking or trauma responses?

Mindfulness and Anxiety

"The basis of mindfulness comes from Buddhism and being in the present moment. When we're getting overstimulated, we learn how to re-center," according to Jamie. "So, paying attention to what serves me, when I feel most comfortable, when I feel most neutral, when I feel myself. It doesn't have to be like a silent, like non-moving meditation for an hour.

They've done scans of the brain and they show that when you're just coloring in an adult coloring book, it highlights the same part of the brain as meditation. There's lots of different activities we can do that can help rest the brain and be in the present moment.

I can control right here right now, just this moment.

One of the activities in Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety is puppy mindfulness. When you're talking to yourself, when you have that internal dialogue, do you speak in the same way you would speak to a puppy? Do you call them lazy or no good? It sounds silly, but we're swinging it to the other extreme. I talk about a pendulum a lot with clients. I might be living over here, but in order to get to the middle, I've got to swing to the other side. And then I'll find the sweet spot. So it might sound silly at first to talk to yourself like a puppy. But you know what? Maybe then you fall in the middle of like just having a little bit of kinder words to yourself."

A beagle puppy looking into the camera
Want to do puppy mindfulness?

I have read Jamie's book and really think it is a good read for anyone, not just teens, if you are suffering through anxiety. ASD and ADHD often comes with anxiety. Jamie's book has some very beautiful suggestions for finding your calm.

My entire chat with Jamie is here.


.*How to get through college and grad school.

*Why anxiety doesn't control her life anymore.


*More on Fight, Freeze, Flee, and Fawn

*Differentiating between anxiety & over-stimulation

*Self Diagnosis and the neurodivergent community during Covid.

*How mindfulness helps with negativity and anxiety.

Jamie works in Rancho Cucamonga, CA.

Her contact information:

909 331-0863

Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety book by Jamie Roberts
Check out Jamie's book

You can receive a signed copy of Jamie's book at here.

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