One of my biggest issues related to schoolwork is actually going to and staying for lectures. It’s sensory overload in the making every time. Walking through loud, crowded halls, sitting in hard stools under bright lights, the constant noise of paper rustling and people fidgeting… it can all be too much. I have managed to find a few things that help me cope. Some of these may work for you, but be aware that I also have access to accommodations and if you don’t, some professors may not allow these things.
1. Noise cancelling headphones
If you have noise canceling headphones or ear defenders or ear muffs, wear them when you can. I wear my headphones with loud music playing as I walk to class and my ear muffs during class to filter out background noise. A less obvious option is ear plugs, which don’t block as much sound but are barely noticeable once they’re in.
2. Sunglasses/tinted glasses
If you’re bothered by bright fluorescent lights, you may want to try wearing sunglasses. If you find you can’t see your notes, tinted glasses or goggles are another option. I use tinted goggles for my labs, where I find sunglasses are too dark to let me do the experiment properly.
3. Sit in the same place
Although most college classrooms don’t have assigned seating, I find that sitting in the same or similar spot every day helps my sense of routine, which helps me avoid feeling anxious. I find that at my school people avoid the front seats, so it’s easy for me to sit in the same spot since I don’t mind the front.
I find that stimming (self-stimulating behavior) can help a lot with regulating sensory issues. If you’re nervous about looking odd, try low-key stims like bouncing your leg, sitting on your hands, or twirling your pencil. But also, try not to worry what people think of you. I find myself full-on rocking and flapping my hands in class often, and most people ignore it.
These are some of the things that I do to avoid sensory overload in the classroom. Remember though, even if you do get sensory overload and have to leave, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t push yourself, especially if you’re taking a full course load. I only go to a few classes a week simply because I can’t go to all of them. And there’s no shame in not meeting neurotypical standards.