Sensory Icks: The Tags, the Seams, the Itch—And Everything in Between

Have you ever had a clothing tag itch on the back of your neck? Me too. For many neurodivergent people, a tag can feel like a cactus or sandpaper rubbing against their skin. While other items can trigger a similar sensation, tags are the ultimate “sensory icks” factor for me. I can’t believe that most people aren’t irritated by tags! It is estimated that up to 90% of autistic people have sensory processing disorder, so it isn’t surprising that so many different (and often “trivial”) things can make us feel uncomfortable, annoyed or even overwhelmed.

Just like the infamous clothing tags, there are many “sensory icks” that neurodivergent people experience regularly. Here is my version of a complete checklist, categorised by the different senses.


  1. Bright white lights
    These striking lights often appear in office buildings, hospitals and schools. For many autistic and neurodivergent people, these lights can trigger sensory overwhelm and headache episodes. Whenever I go to the office, I leave with a headache, mainly because the bright lights can trigger a painful response.
  2. Direct sunlight 
    Even in the winter, I will always leave the house with sunglasses. Walking outside in direct sunlight without protecting my eyes can become overwhelming.
  3. Bright Monitors in the dark
    Any bright light from computers, monitors, and laptops in the darkness can lead to sensory overwhelm as the light is not balanced with the rest of the room, and can strain your eyes.
  4. Flashing images 
    Although it is well documented that flashing lights are triggering for those with epilepsy (and autistic people are more likely to have seizures), many neurodivergent people are also triggered by flashing lights or images. I find that looking at flashing images can start a headache response.
  5. Yellow foods
    I had no idea this was universal for many autistic people, but I can’t stomach most yellow foods. It doesn’t look appetising and makes me feel disgusted. An example of this is that I love bananas, but I hate the peel!


    It is self-explanatory, but these are unbearably itchy and uncomfortable for most neurodivergent people.
  2. Socks
    I can only wear socks with my trainers [sneakers] as I don’t like how my feet feel when I can directly feel the shoe—but at all other times I would rather my feet freeze than feel the sensation of socks around my ankles.
  3. Itchy or uncomfortable fabrics
    100% polyester makes my skin feel itchy and triggers my eczema. Research suggests that skin disorders, including eczema, are more likely in those diagnosed with autism. This means that these “tactile icks” don’t only result in skin irritation; they could trigger an underlying skin disorder.
  4. Tight clothes 
    I honestly hate jeans. I never feel comfortable in them, and it bewilders me that people enjoy them. In the same notion, many autistic people feel uncomfortable in tight clothes, and you’ll often find me in wide-leg pants and sweatshirts. I love joggers, but I hate cuffed joggers that are tight around the ankle… it’s another massive ick of mine.
  5. Anything wet
    Wet hands, wet feet, wet socks, wet wrists, wet surfaces, wet hair, and wet food. I hate it all!
  6. Long nails/nail polish
    As much as I love the look of pretty nails, I hate how nail polish sits on my nails or when it chips easily, and I hate acrylic/long nails. I’ve ripped them off every time I’ve had them done.
  7. Dust
    I’m not too fond of the feeling of dust, and I have to train myself not to look at the dust around me. I can’t function or focus on anything else when I see dust in all the crevices.
  8. Dry skin 
    I often get a lot of dry skin around my hands and legs because I am prone to eczema and not too fond of how it looks and feels. Also, I don’t like moisturising because of how it initially feels (and sounds), but I love being moisturised… it’s a tricky balance.
  9. Crowds
    The feeling of many people near me, surrounding me, being so close to others that I can smell everyone’s bodily odour, not seeing a way out. Crowds are very overwhelming for autistic people, as it invades multiple senses.


  1. Strong perfume 
    I don’t understand why people need to drown themselves in perfume when they leave their house; it’s overpowering and often makes me nauseated!
  2. Food with an overpowering smell
    If a food item smells intense, I find eating it quite challenging. I struggle with the acidic smells of vinegar and ketchup.
  3. Farts
    I don’t like it when people fart around me, and I probably overreact, but the way other people fart overwhelms the scent of the whole room—it’s nauseating!


  1. Over-fizzy/ flat soda drinks 
    There’s a sweet balance between having a soda that’s too fizzy and one that doesn’t have the right amount of fizz. Flat sodas taste revolting, and then drinks with too much fizz overpower the whole taste… I soon find myself choking on the amount of fizz when taking a small sip. The perfect Coke Zero is a fantastic experience, though; I tend to experience this with mini glass bottles rather than cokes or litre bottles.
  2. Toothbrushing
    The minty toothpaste and the toothbrush sit in your mouth for two minutes. The whole experience makes me gag profusely, and I have to power through the process. The smell and feeling of dirty teeth are far worse, so I’ll always brush my teeth even if I hate doing so.
  3. Swallowing tablets
    Many autistic and neurodivergent people struggle with swallowing pills and prefer liquid medication. I have a powerful gag reflex, and as much as I need to take my vitamins, I’m at my limit after a few tablets! I try to bring them in intervals rather than all at once, which helps.
  4. Cold food 
    Cold food is an ick for many neurodivergent people, and that includes sandwiches. My husband refuses to eat food when it’s cold. This means he struggles when having lunch, and will instead go hungry.


  1. Loud/sudden sounds
    The noise of a drill, fire alarm, or school bell is so triggering that I feel I can’t cope mentally. The sudden, loud noise makes me feel scared and out of control.
  2. White noise
    White noise seems to work for many people, but it’s unnecessarily loud and too noisy for me. I prefer brown and pink noise, which is considerably more calming and can help me concentrate or put me to sleep.
  3. Dishes
    Putting dishes away, the sound of the plates clashing together, the noise of the dishes being emptied from the dishwasher. It all just hurts my ears!
  4. Hardcore rock music
    I know many autistic people love rock music, but rock music that is excessively loud and full of harsh noises and instruments banging together, and it gives me a headache.
  5. Whispers
    I don’t like whispering; it always annoys me, and I often ask people to speak up as I struggle to gauge what they say.
  6. Balloons
    The sound of balloons rubbing against each other, anticipating when the balloon could suddenly pop. Yeah, balloons are a definite ick.
  7. Water running on a tap
    If the tap is running downstairs, I can hear it from upstairs. I can’t focus on anything besides the tap and must get up to turn it off.
  8. Chalk on blackboard 
    Luckily, this one doesn’t happen as often as it used to before the introduction of technology, but as a child in a classroom, the squeaks of the chalk against the blackboard would be so irritating to hear.
  9. Chewing
    The sound of chewing can make me cringe and often leaves me questioning, “Why do you need to chew so loudly?’”I don’t know why it annoys me, but I can’t hear anything else now.
A group of South Asian kids raising their arms while covered with colorful paint and powder.
Image by Pavan Prasad from Pixabay