Do You Hear What I Hear?

How many of your child’s toys have sound?  Yeah?  Well, I’ll see that and raise you – uh- every single non-stuffed animal toy in the house and a few obnoxious books.  I always know where the little guy is in the house because I can hear his toys.  If I can’t hear a toy, there’s trouble.

A lot of my son’s sensory dysfunctions stem from sound.  He can crave it or fear it but sound is an integral part of his disability.  If I were to create a chart, sound and communication difficulty would be the top two contenders for a meltdown experience.

If you think about it, sound (for those without a hearing disability) occupies every single moment of our conscious lives.  Even when we are sleeping, it is sound that can and does awaken us.  Sounds that we don’t think of much, like fans in heating and air conditioning systems and those emanating from regular household appliances can be horrible sensory overloads for a child with autism.  Couple the sensory overload with an inability to communicate what is wrong and voila – meltdown.

In my son’s world, I am only an observer.  My observations are coupled with guesses.  No doctor is going to tell me the physiology that accompanies what my son experiences so I can have that kind of understanding of why certain sounds affect him that way and others do not.  How to help him navigate sounds in his daily life in my house is by trial and error.

Certain sounds strike sheer terror in my son.  Most notably and recently, he has shown intense fear to loud vehicle noises.  Stopped in traffic at a red light, a muscle car or loud motorcycle pulls up next to us.  Even with the DVD playing and the windows up, my son will go nuts.  He starts by yelling “GO!”  “GREEN – GO!”  and trying to get me to drive through a red light.  When he recognizes his demands don’t move our car away from the offending sound, he will escalate to screaming, possibly to drown out the offensive sensory overload and partly out of terror.

Similarly, when we are in a parking lot and he hears a car engine start, he will look around frantically and run straight toward me, raising his arms at me to pick him up.  He will bury his head in me and yell, “Car! Open the door! Now!” while freaking out.  Once he gets inside he will start scripting, immediately.  Lately, it’s been all math equations.  This continues at a fevered pitch until he calms himself down.

It’s not just a matter of the volume.  Both at home and at the office, when my son gets a hold of a remote control or a volume button, he will blast the sound to the maximum possible and no matter what sounds are broadcasting at the time, he will laugh hysterically and shout out, “No!  Turn it down!”  but he will not turn it down until intervention takes place.  It appears he is okay with loud volume as long as he is in control of the decibel level.

Like some neurotypical kids, my son hates the sound of a vacuum cleaner.  If a stranger runs an unfamiliar vacuum, like those used in hotels, there will be a meltdown.  Leaf blowers, lawn mowers and power washers also can cause severe anxiety.  Oddly enough, an automatic stapler and the sound of our copier also freak him out.  Daily, because the therapists have not yet worked on that issue, we have to revise the times we photocopy and staple things to avoid his behaviors.

Sometimes, the sound is not supposed to be scary at all but my son does not like to hear it.  Since he was a baby, my son has made it clear that “moo” is a forbidden word in my house.  (What is funny is as I was writing this post, he walked up, read what I was writing and tried to shut off my computer! I can’t even write the word “moo” without generating some backlash. There might be more to that one after all…)

It used to be that my son did not want me to sing.  If I tried, he would cover my mouth. Lately, he’s been asking me to sing, but this seems to be a repetition thing (clearly it is not because he is a fan of his mom’s singing voice).  He will hear a song and then ask me to sing it again.  Funny about that one – he only asks me to sing it over again one time.

Sometimes, there are sounds he absolutely loves.  Then, we have dance time.   I love dance time because, well, look:

Yeah, a little autistic shape identification thrown in at the end there.  Dancing with the Stars maybe?  His dancing to the sound of music can’t help but put a smile on my face. How funny that he chose the song, “Shout!”

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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22 Responses to Do You Hear What I Hear?

  1. Kelly says:

    Hey Karen! I think Tedwardo is a mash-up of your son and BD’s Griffin. It amazes me to read your stories because of the similar way autism is displayed (? Brain fart. I cannot think of the right word!) in my son. I am so glad you blog. Reading about kiddos so similar to Ted gives me strength and definitely makes me feel less alone.

    Abulances, motorcycles, cars without mufflers, HVAC noises, babies crying, the sound of me talking…these are all things that have been known to send Ted into “Earmuff Mode.” Yoda says after the move, we will begin work in a desensitizing program. She’s really big into desensitizing. Hopefully this will work because the part of the country we are moving to is Fighter Jet country, and lemme tell you: they are wicked loud. NT people have a hard time with the noise. Even though it is The Sound of Freedom (trademark pending), it is going to be rough on my boys.

    • solodialogue says:

      Desensitizing is so great! Love the Yoda! The fighter jets will be so hard on little Ted. Maybe a little explanation and social story before you move? I do not envy that move, woman! Just hearing your stories while searching for that house, makes me tired. Wish you were headed this way instead. 😦

  2. Lizbeth says:

    Lord, all of our kids mut be related…add to it the sound of the coffee grinder and hair dryer! We did desensitizing and it works. We also bought 2 Bose headsets that he still wears to this day—one for school & one for home. Expensive, but worth it!

    • solodialogue says:

      Ooh, coffee grinder – luckily I don’t make that stuff. And yeah, forgot about the hair dryer! How do you guys get them to put the headphones on? My son will not put on sunglasses, hats or headphones for more than a couple seconds… Oh, wait, never mind Lizbeth – that’s the desensitizing part, duh… 🙂

  3. Pudding has very similar noise sensitivities. Low frequency really gets to her, and anything unexpected. Our most pressing issue was vacuuming, and we managed to desensitize her to that with great success. It hasn’t generalized to other areas, sadly. Here is how we did it, if you’re interested: http://spectrummymummy.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/operation-desensitization/
    LOVE the video of him dancing. Perhaps dance therapy will be a useful tool for him?

    • solodialogue says:

      Love the “hoover” video!! That Pudding is a doll! Makes me think a lot of this is a control issue. Thanks, mummy!

      (I like the dancing video too- we were going to dance class but it was too complicated with all the quick follows that had to happen within seconds in groups so it’s just gym class for now. Maybe someday.)

  4. Tam says:

    Yesterday morning I woke up thinking something was trying to drill through my head from the inside out. It turned out to be some engine (mower?) that my country neighbor was trying to work on, so revving up and down… for hours! There was no hope of me getting back to sleep but thankfully when I’m fully awake I can handle things like that better.

    I remember crying and whining as a kid when someone ran the vacuum, which for some reason only ever seemed to happen when I was trying to sleep. I would bury my head in my pillow but it never helped at all, I’d end up laying there crying and just praying it would end soon. As I got older I was the one expected to do it, it didn’t hurt when I had control of it, because I knew I could turn it off if/when it got overwhelming.

    I mostly have issues with low frequencies, opera singing, and noises that continue for long periods over which I have no control.

    • solodialogue says:

      Aha! Thanks Tam. I thought it might be partly a control issue. You are so insightful in ways I can’t be. Thank you for all your valuable input here! It is very appreciated!

  5. Broot says:

    I wonder if part of his sensory stuff is synesthesia? Maybe the forbidden word tastes yucky when he hears or sees it.

    I have problems with those toys that make noise. They always seem to go off by themselves!!

    • solodialogue says:

      You know, ever since you posted about synesthesia, it has been on my mind as well. Those toys that go off by themselves? Scary!!

      • Broot says:

        Unfortunately you probably won’t know until he’s older and has the words to explain it. It didn’t even occur to me that I was the only one in my family and friends could see the colours in the letters and numbers until I went to school. So until he figures out that you aren’t seeing or tasting or hearing or feeling or smelling it the same way he does, he probably won’t be able to tell you. 😦 Frustrating.

        Yeah the worse offender was the Fisher Price Farm. It would randomly sing its song in the middle of the night and wake us all up. We ended up taking out the batteries.

  6. Rachel says:

    My auditory sensitivities are my biggest challenge, and I deal with them when out and about by wearing earplugs and avoiding places with sound so loud that it gets through my attempts to block it. We have a pharmacy in town at which they play very, very loud music, and the last time I went in there (wearing a pair of Peltor noise-blocking headphones — along with earplugs!), I didn’t last five minutes. It felt like the sound was inside my body. Completely disorienting. They now deliver my prescriptions to my door. 🙂

    Sometimes, it’s not the individual sounds themselves so much as a build up over time. I have to work so hard to process sound that something absolutely benign can be the last straw, and I need to take a break from the situation. Your son may be experiencing something similar. One thing I can tell you for sure about your son’s auditory processing is that he is working very, very hard at it, and he may just hit saturation point earlier than an adult, who has had more practice at it. Except for extremely loud sound, I can tolerate a fair bit, but it’s work, and at some point, I need to rest and recharge.

    • solodialogue says:

      Interesting that it felt like the sound was inside your body. I would never have thought about it that way. Glad you are getting those prescriptions at home now! That’s so much easier anyway.

      The build up is something that also has crossed my mind but I never thought how hard the little guy needs to work to process it all.

      Thanks, Rachel! 🙂

  7. Melody says:

    I totally get the sound sensitivities. My soun will cover his ears and curl into a ball. Screaming over sounds is not immediate, but the erruption is always latent.

    • solodialogue says:

      Hi Melody! It’s so hard to help them when they actually show us how bad it is because I think they try to handle it themselves before that eruption happens and by then it is past the point of tolerance. 😦 I guess we just have to be there to pick up the pieces and work on desensitization!

  8. Big Daddy says:

    The boy’s got some moves.

    My son has had, for lack of a better phrase, sound issues all his life. There is one sound he hates with a passion – Celine Dion. I agree with him in that one.

  9. eof737 says:

    It is interesting that he likes the song shout… ironic right? He is a good dancer and after reading your post, it became clearer that he feels in control when he decides on the volume and sound choices… Smart young man.
    Eliz

  10. jnettlee says:

    Wow. So sensitive to so many things, these kiddos. Must be a horrible thing for them. Seriously, think about it ! 😦
    Gavin use to hate the vacum cleaner.. now he kisses it. 🙂
    And oh yes.. he ABHORED singing !!! We’d try to sing him his ABCs and he’d be all “nooooo! NOOOOOO !!!” (just like your son’s reaction to “moo”.)

    But now he sings them himself and will allow us to sing along! woot !

    He freaks out at the WMart toilet flushes. He can’t handle that sound at ALL. Yet last year he sat on the curb in town watching the 4th of July Parade and all the loud firetrucks tooting their horns and sirens.. didn’t seem to phase him a bit.

    It’ s so confusing, not knowing what will bother them, how or when to anticipate these things.

  11. Jen says:

    LOVE the dancing!!!!

    K started out not giving a crap about loud noises. Heck, for years we thought she was deaf. Now? Awful. She cannot stand anything loud. 4th of July is not fun here, anymore…

  12. Tootles is a FINE dancer! I love the video and thank you for sharing it! Perhaps a little bit of Tootles in motion is what’s needed to get Kaia off this whole “twins” fascination and onto one good looking little man!

    The thing about “moo” is a really interesting quirk too. I was rather surprised to see that the word is equally offensive in print! Personally, I have to agree with Tootles… “moo” is over-used in the English language and probably should be removed from the Oxford English Dictionary 😉

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