Step team dance during a previous pep rally. Photo by Phoebe Monsour.
Step team dance during a previous pep rally. Photo by Phoebe Monsour.

R/W Week 2018: How students deal with sensory overload during pep rallies

As the natural sway bodies joining the pep rally crowd push hands, forearms and a bony elbow against me, I shrivel up, taking up as little space as possible. My body tenses. I hear and feel everything: a screech from the speakers, a pair of legs crossing in front of me, a cry in excitement, a palm on my shoulder, a voice calling my attention, a nudge at my side, a breath barely too heavy. There is another bony elbow. My first impulse is to swing. But I just flinch and crumble into myself more.

The next pep rally I take photos on the court. No one bumps into me; I can breathe. I do this for the rest of the year.

I was then experiencing the phenomena of sensory overload. There are many reasons one might deal with this. Sensory overload is commonly associated with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and it is the main symptom of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

These issues are often comorbid (occurring in one person at the same time) and share symptoms. Sometimes those with one of these disorders can misattribute their symptoms with another, or, even, ignore their comorbid disorders.

One can experience sensory overload during panic attacks caused by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as well.

With my ADHD and GAD (and possibly some misophonia — a strong aversion to “mouth sounds” — from my mom), my sensory issues feel almost inevitable.

The experience can change from person to person. “Sensory Overload,” is a short film Miguel Jiron directed and animated forInteracting with Autism,” visually depicts this overload, especially in regards to autism.

While to many this video might ring true like the blare of an ambulance, others have had different experiences.

Many students at Manual deal with sensory issues, or other problems that prevent them from enjoying pep rallies and sometimes even that cause them pain. The library has become their haven. In there it is quiet, with only the faintest hint of clicking computer keys permeating the air. A surprising array of students sit up there, many with earbuds or homework, waiting out the rally. At a table by the entrance is a sign-in sheet, but anyone can stay up there.

Reclined in a corner on their phone during the homecoming pep rally was one such student: Eli Pajo (12, J&C). I was surprised to see them, as well as a few other students I know. I didn’t even know going to the library was an option.

Doctors had diagnosed Pajo with auditory processing issues and ADHD. In large crowds, their chest feels “panicked and tight.” Their eyes, lower back, stomach and ears are in physical pain. Pajo describes the feeling similar to “if you’ve ever been cleaning your ears and you accidentally stab yourself with a Q-tip.”

While Pajo can handle the experience if they are “pumped” enough about an event, like for a band, they usually skip school dances and pep rallies.


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Saw Car Seat Headrest with some cool people

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“I had to leave the play we had to go to in English because I was just really freaked out,” Pajo said. “It’s embarrassing because it makes me feel like a little kid that’s scared of something silly like costume characters.”

But not everyone in the library has a sensory issue, such as Connor Smith (12, MST).

At the third pep rally of his sophomore year, Smith started to have an asthma attack. He attempted to leave the stands, but the mass of students pushing and shoving prevented him from moving. His blood pressure became high, like an adrenaline rush. A panic attack. Smith starting dipping in and out of consciousness, until he eventually passed out. He “had to be dragged out to his mother’s car.”

From then on, Smith stayed in the library.

With the Red/White Week pep rally tomorrow, there will be many students in the library like Pajo and Smith. I, however, will venture into that crowd again. I am just glad to know I have options.

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    fitoruJan 15, 2020 at 2:26 am

    This article is indeed stunning. Continue to share your talent. I’m looking forward to reading more of your works