Autonomic storm

  • The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of our nervous system that controls systems such as our breathing rate, heart rate and body temperature.
  • We have triggered the body’s self defence system
  • Prior to onset of self-injury – and probably also outwardly directed aggression – there is a spike in activity in the sympathetic nervous system (part of the ANS). This spike in activity is associated with pain, confusion and heat.
  • Lower the sensory input: do not try and “talk them out of it”, you will only add to the person’s sensory overload.


This series of short films shows an extended conversation  between Phoebe Caldwell (DSc, Expert Responsive Communication Practitioner who has worked with autistic people for 45 years) and Janet Gurney (BA, PGCT, Director of Training for Us in a Bus, a service based in Surrey that supports adults and children with profound and multiple learning difficulties and autism).