5 Things You Didn’t Know Were ADHD – Part 2: Easily Overstimulated

Five Things You Didn’t Know Were ADHD


When we think about ADHD we conjure up images of little boys who can’t sit still – and God knows that’s definitely part of it – but it’s not even close to the whole picture. Writing about all the ways in which ADHD can affect your personality would be a book, not an article, so here’s the five common traits of ADHD that surprised me most.


  1. We are severely impacted by negativity.
  2. We are easily overstimulated, overwhelmed by loud sounds and crowds.
  3. We dominate conversations.
  4. We are argumentative.
  5. We are more prone to stress-related illnesses AND so are our partners.


In a series of articles, I will expand upon each of these traits.


2. We are easily overstimulated.

It’s widely known in the ADHD community that “ADHD” is a terrible label for how our brains function. First and foremost because we don’t have an attention deficit. Quite the contrary, we can’t stop paying attention to things. If something is interesting, then we’re hooked.  This openness to stimuli can be fantastic, but can also be a problem. It is very common for the stimuli to be too much and cause overwhelm. This can be caused by many different things:

  • Too much noise
  • Too many people in the room
  • Too much mess/clutter
  • People brushing against you
  • Someone eating loudly
  • The feeling of seams of your socks against your toes
  • Flashing lights
  • Too much movement
  • And more…

Any number of things can cause us to be overstimulated and this can tie into Sensory Processing Disorder in extreme cases.

When we’re overstimulated we typically react in one of two ways:

  • We get loud, boisterous, angry, or out of control.
  • We get withdrawn, anxious, tightly wound or highly strung.

I know personally that I can have either of these reactions. My mother (undiagnosed) tends to only really get withdrawn. My boys can have either reaction.


When the house is a mess of toys and projects, the TV is on, and the dog is running around looking for a playmate, I know it won’t be long before my 6 year old starts screaming like a maniac as his poor, under-siege brain, tries to deal with everything that’s going on. He can become frantic as he absent-mindedly acts on nothing but impulse.


In less familiar settings (i.e. a party somewhere he’s never been before with music and lots of people talking) he’s likely to become quiet, looked dazed and zombified as he tries to soak it all in. Not shy, not sad, just overloaded. His brain turns into a computer with too many applications running. You can hear the fan whirring but nothing seems to be responding.



The biggest risk here, as a parent, is the potential for getting overwhelmed and blowing up at your kids or partner unnecessarily. I know I’m guilty of this from time to time, especially if I’m trying to focus on something else and there’s too much going on in the background. I can be extremely calm and patient right up to reaching my limit, then once I reach my limit a switch is flipped, the gates unlock, and the dragon emerges ready to burn everything to the ground. The level of frustration felt is disproportionate to what is going on.


Another issue is when the overstimulation causes your child to act out. As mentioned above, one of the reactions to being overstimulated can be for your child to lose control, become very loud, and maybe even become aggressive or destructive. When this goes beyond the limits of reasonable behavior it will start to cause them some problems.


Finally, whatever your child’s reaction – to become a handful or to withdraw – the feeling of being overstimulated is unpleasant, and we’ll often want to alleviate that for them if we can.


Things You Can Try

For adults with ADHD there are a few things you can try:

  • Pay attention to your emotional state
  • Remove yourself
  • Do something that recharges you
  • Have quiet time together
  • Change your plans
  • Remove the source of stimulation


If you are a parent with ADHD you can try to pay attention to your emotional state. Often times just being aware of what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it is enough to keep you from boiling over unnecessarily or disappearing into your iphone.


When you’re starting to get overwhelmed, take some sort of action to stop you losing your temper or zoning out entirely. If you have a partner who is able to tag in and let you have a few minutes to recuperate, that can be helpful. You will need to communicate that need and do something calming while having that time away.


It’s important to do something that recharges you. I personally find that if I used alone time to sit quietly or spend the time in the yard, doing something physical, or very purposefully relaxing, this recharges me much more than spending that same time on social media.


If you don’t have someone who can tag in for you, or the circumstances don’t allow it at that particular moment you can try having your quiet time with your child. I’ve found bribery to be effective here.

“I need a nap for 30 minutes, if you can stay in here and draw quietly, letting me sleep, we’ll get ice cream when I’m done.”

Besides, if you’re overstimulated there’s a good chance they are too.


Sometimes, the frustration is just born of trying to do one thing while the household demands another. If I’m getting stressed out by all the noise and chaos while I try to cook dinner, maybe I need to stop cooking dinner, order a pizza, and play with the kids. If you can’t beat ‘em…


Finally, and perhaps most obviously, if the environment is overwhelming, try to make it less so. Turn down the TV, put the dog in the yard, pick up some of the mess, try to distract the children with something less in-your-face.


For Children

For kids with ADHD it’s almost entirely about managing the environment. Recognize when they’re losing control or zoning out and have them do something less stimulating. Coloring, Play Doh, and Lego are all still favorites in our house. If I lead the way, sitting down to play with them for a few minutes, they’ll usually jump right in.


Sometimes you’re not going to pick up on it right away and they will pass the point of no return. As annoying as it is, try to be compassionate and stay positive as you try to bring them back to this dimension. They might be loud and unhinged but they really can’t help it at this point. Something like the “time in” I described in my last post is ideal for this scenario.