What is Auditory Sensory Overload?
Sensory overload is something that we all experience to a degree, but those with Autism often also have a Sensory Processing Disorder or have sensory integration difficulties. This means that they are both easily impacted and more impacted by sensory overload. This is a seven part series in which I will address the different types of sensory overload and help you identify them and find some solutions. This first blog post addresses auditory sensory overload.
Have you ever noticed someone tapping their foot or clicking a pen and not been able to concentrate on anything else? You probably tried to ignore it and couldn't, so you moved, asked them to stop, or waited it out. Now imagine every sound having that effect on you - the fan above your head, the traffic outside, the sound of someone typing, the TV that is on two rooms away. These sounds are impossible to stop or move away from.
Alternatively imagine having trouble hearing and processing sound. You don't notice when your are speaking loudly, and you slam the door so that you can hear it is closed.
Both of these are types of Sensory Processing Disorder. The first describes someone who is Hypersensitive, while the second person is Hyposensitive.
Auditory hypersensitivity is what is described above. Noise is magnified and often distorted, the individual may be able to hear things that are far away, and they struggle to block out "background noise." That vacuum in the room above, the conversation at the far end of the hall, or the cars on the street are constantly impacting them. They are distracted by noises others might not notice, and startled easily because the sounds are magnified. For a lot of people with sensory processing disorder, this results in anxiety, an inability to focus, and ultimately the "socially unacceptable" behaviour that is associated with autism and sensory challenges.
How do I identify hypersensitivity to sound?
People with a hypersensitivity to sound will attempt to block out the overwhelming sounds. They may cover their ears or their whole head, and complain about or react to noises. They may also ask people to speak or sing quietly, turn down the volume on devices, or seek refuge from noise. There may also be specific noises that are particularly hard for them such as children laughing, flushing toilets or dogs barking. They will also likely avoid big, loud public venues as they are too overwhelming. In general, the individual's behaviour will be much better when they are in quiet environments.
What techniques can I use to help someone who is hypersensitive to sound?
- Use headphones and hats to muffle and block out sound
- Prepare the individual before going into noisy places so they are aware and expect the noise
- Avoid noisy public places
- Listen to music
- Create quiet zones in your house, at school, or in places the individual frequents so that they are able to escape the noise as best they can
- Turn off the TV, close the windows and doors, and block out or minimize the background noises
Auditory hyposensitivity is the opposite of hypersensitivity. Sounds are quiet and hard to hear. The individual may have hearing loss in 1 or both ears, and may not acknowledge certain sounds. This person will seek sounds and crowds, and lead a "noisy' life filled with behaviours such as slamming doors, banging chairs and making noise.
How do I identify hyposensitivity to sound?
Individuals with hyposensitivity to sound will have trouble hearing verbal cues, and may not always respond to their name. They will not notice some sounds, may have trouble remembering verbal conversations, and/or may have trouble discriminating among similar sounds. They will want to turn up sound and have loud music, and often make noise just to hear it, such as hitting the table, slamming cupboards, and loudly talking themselves through things. They will often ask people to speak louder and repeat themselves.
What techniques can I use to help someone who is hyposensitive to sound?
- Use visual ques and supports to back up verbal communication
- Speak Clearly
Watch the video below to get an idea of what it is live to have a Sensory Processing Disorder, and don't turn down that volume! Keep in mind there are many, many different types of Sensory Processing Disorders, and people, particularly those with autism, all exhibit very different sensitivities and reactions. Follow us on Facebook to see when our next article in the series is released!
If you liked this article, check out these: