Personal story about adults with Asperger's syndrome and extreme sensitivity to sound


Imagine watching television and feeling as if the actors are shouting at you constantly. You can’t work anymore because you find the background chatter too annoying, or the sound of children laughing is excruciating. The seemingly quiet hum of the air conditioning causes a massive throbbing in your head, and you have to cover your ears or get away.


Those of us on the autism spectrum often have sensory problems, including a high level of sensitivity to noise. Our typical western lifestyle, with its barrage of noise, can be a living hell for some auties and aspies whose sensitivity to sound has been affected. A few examples of difficult situations include dining out, taking a walk, washing the dishes, using a vacuum cleaner or listening to music. There are many noises that 'normal' people filter out and don't even notice unless they are pointed out - the rumble of a jet passing overhead, the hum of background traffic, the thumping of a sub woofer from a teenager's car going past. Certain frequencies can be like an alarm going off, yet unnoticed by others, so another problem is convincing others that the problem exists for you.


What are some coping strategies?

Trying to escape this deluge of sound is not easy, and it can be yet another motivation to live a reclusive lifestyle to cope. Ear-plugs or ear-muffs might help, but they may not block some frequencies or noise intensities. Sometimes even our own voice seems too loud!

As mentioned, ear-plugs and ear-muffs can be a great help. Activities can be restructured so that dining out or shopping can be done outside the peak hours, to avoid excessive noise. A commonsense approach to diet also helps. Avoiding stimulants such as nicotine or caffeine reduces the body's sensitivity to noise. A proper diet, good sleep, and exercise play their part in better overall health, which will impact indirectly on sensitivity to sound by reducing stress.

Hearing clinics can provide therapy with a specially programmed hearing aid to manage sensitivity to sound. They may also provide a soft noise generator to be worn while awake for up to 18 months. Long-term exposure to gentle sound at a barely audible level can desensitize hearing. This ‘white noise’ contains every frequency audible to humans, and can be likened to the sound of distant surf or wind.

Sound ‘masking’ works on the principle that disturbing noises can be reduced by a constant noise in the background. Music or a television playing in the background quietly can help, or relaxation tapes with soothing sounds.

Auditory Integration Training involves exposure to filtered music for a certain number of hours each day over a limited number of sessions. Music such as Mozart has randomized frequencies that mobilize and exercise the inner ear and brain.

It should be stressed that there are no ‘cures’, that common refrain in Autism Spectrum Disorders! The most effective solutions involve increasing the tolerance of noise, so we need to walk the fine line between protecting our ears by minimizing discomfort, yet exposing ourselves to sufficient noise to build up ‘immunity’. Over-protection will only further increase the effect of extreme sensitivity to sound.


Close this personal story on Asperger's syndrome and sensitivity to sound

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Sensory problems with Autism Spectrum Disorders can lead to extreme sensitivity to sound