WHEN THE WORLD WON'T SHUT UP!
Imagine watching television and feeling as if
the actors are shouting at you constantly. You can’t work anymore
because you find the background chatter too annoying, or the sound
of children laughing is excruciating. The seemingly quiet hum of
the air conditioning causes a massive throbbing in your head, and
you have to cover your ears or get away.
Those of us on the autism spectrum often have
problems, including a high level of sensitivity to noise. Our
typical western lifestyle, with its barrage of noise, can be a living
hell for some auties and aspies whose sensitivity to sound has been
affected. A few examples of difficult situations include dining
out, taking a walk, washing the dishes, using a vacuum cleaner or
listening to music. There are many noises that 'normal' people filter
out and don't even notice unless they are pointed out - the rumble
of a jet passing overhead, the hum of background traffic, the thumping
of a sub woofer from a teenager's car going past. Certain frequencies
can be like an alarm going off, yet unnoticed by others, so another
problem is convincing others that the problem exists for you.
What are some coping strategies?
Trying to escape this deluge of sound is not easy,
and it can be yet another motivation to live a reclusive lifestyle
to cope. Ear-plugs or ear-muffs might help, but they may not block
some frequencies or noise intensities. Sometimes even our own voice
seems too loud!
As mentioned, ear-plugs and ear-muffs can be a great help. Activities
can be restructured so that dining out or shopping can be done outside
the peak hours, to avoid excessive noise. A commonsense approach
to diet also helps. Avoiding stimulants such as nicotine or caffeine
reduces the body's sensitivity to noise. A proper diet, good sleep,
and exercise play their part in better overall health, which will
impact indirectly on sensitivity to sound by reducing stress.
Hearing clinics can provide therapy with a specially programmed
hearing aid to manage sensitivity to sound. They may also provide
a soft noise generator to be worn while awake for up to 18 months.
Long-term exposure to gentle sound at a barely audible level can
desensitize hearing. This ‘white noise’ contains every frequency
audible to humans, and can be likened to the sound of distant surf
Sound ‘masking’ works on the principle that disturbing noises can
be reduced by a constant noise in the background. Music or a television
playing in the background quietly can help, or relaxation tapes
with soothing sounds.
Integration Training involves exposure to filtered music for
a certain number of hours each day over a limited number of sessions.
Music such as Mozart has randomized frequencies that mobilize and
exercise the inner ear and brain.
It should be stressed that there are no ‘cures’, that common refrain
in Autism Spectrum Disorders! The most effective solutions involve
increasing the tolerance of noise, so we need to walk the fine line
between protecting our ears by minimizing discomfort, yet exposing
ourselves to sufficient noise to build up ‘immunity’. Over-protection
will only further increase the effect of extreme sensitivity to
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