Autism Series Part 2: Extreme Sound Sensitivity – Ouch!

mom and autism 2

If you were to ask a group of mothers who have a child with mild, moderate, or severe autism what it is like handling sensory processing disorders, one phrase would more than likely be common among all of the answers: “emotionally stressful”. The stress that it causes among the child is flat-out overwhelming, and the stress that it causes the mother is exhausting. Many children that have sensory issues have difficulties with a wide variety of sounds and textures, and finding out what those are is simply learned by experience (usually a not-so-positive one).

One not-so-positive experience that woke me up (okay, an extremely negative one) was when my son was three. You see, when my son was younger and not verbal (around the ages of 2-4) he would have outbursts with a lot of crying, hitting, and grabbing his ears, for no real reason at all. Or so I thought. Looking back on this, I know it was because I did not realize his severe high-sensitivity to certain sounds (sounds I really didn’t hear…or even notice), that indeed were excruciating to him.

I will never forget the time we went out of town to a very large mall (he was around three) and he had to go to the bathroom. When I took him into the large, public bathroom, he went into full panic mode with screams (and you know how those bathrooms echo!) and refused to go into the bathroom stall with me. Amidst many stares from many other women, I seriously did not know what to do. I didn’t even know what the problem was, and had to pick him up, hold him (he was still screaming and kicking), and he eventually went to the bathroom stall with me, still screaming. But at the same time of him going, someone flushed the commode, and I tell you what:

I have NEVER seen such fear in a little one’s face. Ever. I will never forget that look.

And then it hit me. He was scared of the bathroom. So, thinking that I had come to a solution, we quickly washed hands and left (with women staring at me, open-mouthed). I looked at my husband and said, “He is scared of the bathroom.” Of course, husband did not believe me. And who would? What child would be scared of the bathroom when they are with their mom in the stall? Well, a child with autism would, that’s for sure!

Like any mother, I began to do my research. Yeah, we had to figure out a way for him to use public restrooms when we went somewhere, and I found that earplugs worked wonders. Also, when he started school I would have to talk to the teachers about his sound-sensitivity. This called for having him wear earplugs in the gymnasium, cafeteria, and the larger bathrooms. No biggie…he looked kind of funny in his purple earplugs, but kindergarten and first graders really didn’t notice. Fire drills? Another absolute nightmare. But, since I educated myself, we put it in his educational plan for him to be taken out with a teacher’s assistant a few minutes before a planned fire drill.

To this day, my son still has high-sensitivity to sound.

However, being thirteen, he is able to adjust accordingly. Even before he went up to the middle school, in the summer, the principal pulled the fire alarm just for him so he could see how loud the sound would be. Yes, he covers his ears, but doesn’t everyone?

Sensory processing disorders (SPD) are more prevalent in children than autism.

Yet the condition receives far less attention partly because it’s never been recognized as a distinct disease. In a groundbreaking new study from UC San Francisco, researchers have found that children affected with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure, for the first time showing a biological basis for the disease that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud, or metallic noises like flushing toilets, clanking silverware, or other noises that seem unoffensive to others
  • May notice and/or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Fearful of surprise touch, avoids hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Seems fearful of crowds or avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Doesn’t enjoy a game of tag and/or is overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger i.e. doesn’t like his or her feet to be off the ground
  • Has poor balance, may fall often

Being a young mom is hard. Being a young mom of a child with a disability is even harder. But, as mom’s, we do anything for our children, and a lot of that is by learning from experience and learning by our mistakes. Being proactive and educating ourselves does wonders for our children! And one more fact: it all works out. It may seem horrific for a few years, but eventually time goes on and everything works itself out. Aaaahhh, it is unconditional love, I tell ya!