It's Too Loud: Autism & Auditory Sensitivity

March 18, 2018

 

For individuals on the Autism spectrum, no matter how old they are, where they live, or where they are on the spectrum itself, extreme sensitivity is a recurring problem. Personally, I have a lot of auditory sensitivity issues. I don’t know how much “better” I can hear than a neurotypical person, but it’s definitely better. I can sometimes hear the little things that “typical” people don’t hear, such as the buzzing of lights. There are two main disadvantages (in my opinion) of auditory sensitivity. First, I can hear the smallest things that most people can’t hear, which sometimes distracts or overwhelms me. Second, whenever I have to be in a loud setting, I suffer from excruciating headaches because of all of the noise that I hear. Go back to that one time you remember that a fire alarm went off; it’s obviously not a pleasant sound! Now pretend that the alarm was two times louder. I would assume that after a little bit, you would get a headache. If for some reason you didn’t, further pretend that you hit your head and now have a headache! That’s how I feel. Here are two incidents in which I have had extreme episodes of auditory sensitivity occur, along with how I dealt with them.

 

The first incident was about nine or ten months ago, when my school had a fire drill. This was a false alarm, which meant that I was not told in advance. My class, along with the other classes, went to the evacuation field. About halfway between my classroom and the field I started to feel the headache coming on. The right side of my head began to throb and pulsate over and over again. Each time it pulsated, a wave of pain would go through my brain. It hurt so bad; I didn’t know what to do. After the fire alarm was turned off we went to our class again. I ran up to class, but when I got there, I realized that the flashing light of the alarm hadn’t stopped yet. It turns out that there was an alarm malfunction which had the lights flashing over and over again for another forty minutes. Now I had my headache from the noise and a constant, repeating flash shooting through my eyes. Lucky me! To make it worse, the clicking sound that the alarm light made (result of my auditory sensitivity) exacerbated my headache.

 

The second incident was much more recently; only about two weeks ago. As some of you know, I work as an assistant teacher (ozer) at my temple religious school. This is my third year and I am currently with the kindergarten class. Purim, a Jewish holiday, was being celebrated this day while I was assistant teaching. One of the long standing traditions that the religious school does is that, during Purim, all of the classes go to the sanctuary for an interactive service with clergy members and volunteer readers. Multiple sections of Hebrew text are read and chanted during this service. Whenever the reader chants “Haman,” one of the characters in the Purim story, the whole audience yells “boo” for a long time and all of the kids spin their groggers. Groggers are noisemakers that people spin around and around, which make extremely obnoxious sounds. Below I have attached an audio clip of a group of kids spinning groggers (it’s pretty bad).

 

 

 

I want you to imagine that, for a few dozen times (which probably last fifteen to thirty seconds each), one hundred of these were making noise in a big room that echoes. Talk about sensory overload! As a student during religious school, I was always granted access to the quiet room for this service so that I could see everything that was going on without having to hear all of the noise. As an assistant teacher, I am now required to sit with my kids in the sanctuary. This has been a big problem for me. I once again had a terrible, pulsating headache. In order to get out of the room, I literally volunteered to take every single kid (in my class or not) who had to use the bathroom out to do so! Although this helped a little bit, my headache pain was still extremely high.

 

The situations above are just two of many experiences that I have had in which my auditory sensitivity has been an issue. Furthermore, I feel that my auditory sensitivity limits me from many social interactions. I do not want to go to concerts, fearing that I will have horrible headaches (not that anyone has asked me to go to a concert anyway). But hey, on the positive side, I won’t have permanent damage to my ears by age thirty, like the thirty percent of teens that will due to constantly going to concerts and blasting music through their earbuds!

 

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© 2017-2019 by Ethan Hirschberg. All Rights Reserved.