What memories/emotions does the sound of popping popcorn bring?
Think of the sound of nails on a chalkboard. How about the sound of a bee buzzing near your head?
Each sound evokes feelings within us. Sounds are more than just noise. Human beings make sense of our world from sound. In fact, there are nerves in our ears which are connected to areas in our brains which involve memory, emotion, fear, and our basic alertness levels (among many others). This is why we form feelings that are attached to sounds we hear. What I find truly amazing is that our body remembers sounds to help us to determine if something is safe or dangerous and then our body reacts in response. When the auditory system develops appropriately, we learn to make responses that fit the sounds we hear.
Remember that children with autism and with sensory integration/processing dysfunctions can have difficulty with forming a response to something that they sense. When children hear sounds, they form an association. For most of our children with hearing sensitivity, a loud sound they have heard in the past may have produced a fear reaction or, “fight or flight” response. These sounds are now perceived as dangerous to them. So many of my clients fear fire alarms because they are loud and unpredictable. They have difficulty realizing that the fire alarm is meant to protect them. In fact, for years my own son was so afraid of the fire alarm in hotels that we had to look in the room before actually booking it so that he could see the type of fire alarm being used. This is not at all practical! We simply had no idea how to help him. The same can be said for any sound that may elicit an inappropriate reaction in our children. We must try to work with them via a social story, empathy, and understanding to create a new or more positive memory of sound.
-It is always wonderful to do a Google search of pictures of fire alarms (or whatever it is that is making the targeted sound). Print, glue, or draw pictures in the social story and review it often so that your child will be prepared.
-Several forms of earplugs and noise cancelling headphones are available on the internet.
-Encourage your child to list sounds that cause him to be afraid. Make a plan for each sound. For example, when he hears a siren, he can cover his ears, count to ten and take deep breaths. Practicing in advance will help to give him confidence and lessen anxiety.
-Work with your child’s therapist to form strategies. Fun CDs like Sound-Eaze and School Eaze are available on Amazon. The CDs have sounds set to gentle rhythm and vocals to help make sounds more tolerable. They are not part of any listening program and are a therapeutic tool.
-Therapeutic brushing and sensory activity diets can also help children to maintain regulation.
-Formal programs such as Therapeutic Listening may be used by occupational therapists to help integrate the sensory system.
Remember that not everyone is going to tolerate loud sounds. Many people simply need to avoid them when possible.
Please share your stories of fear of sound and what techniques you’ve used.
By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L
Mom to two children with SPD and autism. Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist– a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. Order anywhere books are sold. www.pocketot.com