Sensory Disorder:  sound seekers and avoiders

Sensory disorder: family road trip

Most aspies and other individuals on the autism spectrum experience a form of sensory processing disorder, resulting in behaviors that seek out sensations and avoid others.  It’s important to note, though, that sensory disorders also exist in people who are NOT on the autism spectrum, as well, and can be genetic.  Every one of us avoids and seeks certain sensations, but it can become problematic (a disorder) when it is excessive.  In my family, my son does not have an ASD, but he does have sensory disorder challenges.  My daughter, Abby, is an aspie, and also has SPD.

Ouch! That sound hurts!

Sound is a very common sensation that is avoided or craved in people with a sensory disorder.  Interestingly, sounds may be painfully avoided by an individual while others are sought out by the same individual.  For example, crowded public places or places with loud sounds like movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, etc., may be literally painful for some individuals.  In school cafeterias, you may see kids with a sensory disorder placing their hands over their ears.   Birthday parties can be a nightmare for these kids, especially in the popular places such as jump houses, skating rinks, etc.  Some movie theaters have started having “sensory days,” for individuals who cannot tolerate the loud soundtracks that are usually blasted from the speakers – on sensory days the volume is turned way down.

Because you know it’s all about that bass!

These same individuals, though, may seek out rhythmic sounds, or even may make these sounds themselves with their mouths or their bodies (tapping hands/fingers, clicking tongues, tapping feet, etc.)  My son taps his pencil on anything that will make a sound (including his own head!).  He also makes a rhythmic clicking sound with his mouth that drives the rest of us nuts!  As you can imagine this can be a problem for him at school.  My daughter, who is a sound-seeker, often sings to herself when she’s concentrating.  As an aspie, she isn’t always aware of her affect on others, so she used to sing in class a lot while doing difficult tasks.  Although, she has a really beautiful singing voice, other kids didn’t care to listen when they needed to focus on a test!

Sound seekers usually love the noise at a concert or may crank up the stereo volume to decibels that send others fleeing the room!  Sometimes silence or hushed, vague sounds (like whispers) can actually be painful to individuals with a sensory disorder.  If the room (or car) is too quiet, another family member of mine will make his own variety of sounds, ranging from singing to mouth sound effects.  When doing intense business work at his computer, he listens to loud music on headphones, and recently discovered that he can sleep much better, and deeper, listening to certain types of music on headphones all night long!

Calgon, take me away!!

(Okay, you’ll only understand that heading if you’re over the age of 40!)

In my family, I am the only one that is not a sound-seeker, and as I get older, I am more of an avoider.  When I am home alone, or in the car by myself, I deeply enjoy the silence, and can work for hours doing laundry or chores without a sound.  When the kids get home from school, I am usually ambushed with sound, and it can sometimes feel chaotic to me.  We have a little radio in our kitchen that my son flips on while we’re preparing breakfast, and often I’ll come right behind him and flip it off.  It’s very hard for me to talk with my family with the sounds of the radio, and other kitchen sounds (cooking, water faucets, etc.), along with the sound of my family’s voices.   My brain sometimes just feels like it goes into a sound traffic jam and I can’t hear anything!

Now imagine being on a 2-hour family car trip, and what it’s like to be in the car with 3 sensory seekers!  Long trips can be tough sometimes!  Please comment below – I’d love to hear about your own experiences with sound seeking or avoiding!