I don’t know a single person with autism who doesn’t struggle in some way with their auditory system. It’s pretty rough seeing how much it affects their daily lives, the cringing when a truck drives by, the constant covering of ears with their hands, the need to wear sound limiting headphones or ultimately having to choose not to go places or enjoy outings because it’s too physically painful. Sound and light sensitivity were the first signs of regression for James when he was not quite 2 years old. I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden his brother’s voice seemed to upset him or why he started to dislike going places like the shopping mall. School has been very tough for James when it came to sound sensitivity and he didn’t make it any easier on his classmates because he developed a loud yell for when his ears were hurting. Never quite understood why adding to the noise helped!
Homeschooling and other things have helped the sound sensitivity a good deal but this summer James has been in a camp where it is a bit louder and he has struggled. In response to this Elizabeth did a lesson on the auditory system, knowing that if James understood how this system works it might really help. When there is understanding, solutions can often be found! After a very technical lesson on the parts of the ear and the way it functions, this is the conversation they had.
J:I HAVE A HARD TIME IN GROUPS
*I told James that my family is loud and our dinners can get crazy as people raise their voices to talk over the conversation.
J:MY FAMILY IS LOUD TOO. I HAVE A HARD TIME FOCUSING.
EV:We can’t expect the world to revolve just around us, right? So, what can you do to adjust?
J: I THINK I COULD WEAR HEADPHONES WHEN I AM IN LOUD SITUATIONS. THAT WAY I CAN PARTICIPATE BUT NOT FREAK OUT. FAMILY GATHERINGS CAN BE HARD BECAUSE I DON’T ALWAYS GET A CHANCE TO TALK SO IT’S A LOT OF LISTENING AND NOISE.
EV: Will you still be able to keep up with what is going on if you wear headphones?
J: YES, I CAN STILL PARTICIPATE WITH HEADPHONES ON.
EV: Did the headphones help at film camp?
J: YES, FILM CAMP WAS EASIER WITH HEADPHONES.
Whew! What a complicated system – and this just describes the mechanics of it! Some people suffer from hearing constant ringing, buzzing or noise in their ear which is called tinitus. Other people are hypersensitive (too much) to sound or hypo sensitive (not enough) to sound. Others have trouble separating peripheral or background information from central auditory information! Still others find that their auditory channel is the way that they perceive and learn information best! Think about what you have just learned about the auditory system. How would you describe your hearing acuity? Your hearing sensitivity? Are there any parts of your auditory system that give you trouble? How do you think your auditory system factors in your learning?
I THINK I AM AN AUDITORY LEARNER. I CAN HEAR THINGS ONE TIME AND NEVER FORGET IT. SOME NOISES BOTHER ME AND OTHERS DO NOT. THINGS THAT BOTHER ME INCLUDE LOUD VOICES, BIRDS, HIGH PITCHED NOISES, MACHINERY, KIDS AND TOO MANY PEOPLE TALKING AT ONCE. NOISES THAT DO NOT BOTHER ME INCLUDE REPETITIVE SOUNDS LIKE A FAN OR THE WASHER OR THE OCEAN. I ALSO LIKE MUSIC EVEN WHEN IT IS LOUD. I AM NOT PLEASED BY LOUD MUSIC IN THE CAR. THAT IRRITATES ME, MAYBE BECAUSE IT IS A SMALLER SPACE. I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE A PAIR OF NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES TO WEAR WHEN I AM AROUND IRRITATING SOUNDS.
EV: We have recently talked about imagery and symbolism, use these devices to describe how irritating sounds affect you.
J: IT FEELS THE ENTIRE WORLD IS SCREAMING IN MY EAR!