I’m a very auditory learner. I’ve always loved to listen and paint images in my head. I’m an avid patron of talk radio and don’t often listen to music in the car, favoring instead the funny story, current news or an interview on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” (If I had a dollar for every “driveway moment” experienced while listening to NPR then I’d be a wealthy man and wouldn’t need you to click the ads on our web site…. *hint* *hint*….)
That being the case, I have noticed an increase in sensitivity to the acoustics within my surroundings. The smallest noises are starting to create anxiety. I recently had the wonderful experience of participating in a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The cast was great, the orchestra was great, the crew was great. But there were several occasions during rehearsals where all the noise – the talking, the instruments, the singing, the choir – would simply get the best of me and the only remedy was to find a quiet spot to calm down. Even tonight, in my own living room, the noise was overwhelming. Between Melanie’s TV show, Michaela reading her homework out loud, Kelli watching something on her computer… it was just too much! I felt like I couldn’t filter it out. I even tried to distract myself with a game on my phone – didn’t work. I finally had retreat to the upstairs and decided to write this post.
I never used to be this sensitive to noise. I’m often the creator of extreme decibels – maybe it’s the old age or other stresses in my life, but there is certainly a heightened awareness to the volume level within the space I’m occupying.
It makes me wonder: if I have difficulty with this, how do my girls cope with it? Right now they are home – within familiar and safe surroundings. They are relaxed and (relatively) calm. But when we are in new situations, new places, off-routine events, how do they cope? How do they filter out the noise and keep focused?
There is a wonderful video by Carly Fleischmann called “Carly Café.” (If you don’t know Carly, you really should read about her. It’s an amazing and inspirational story about a teen with severe autism and how she find’s her voice and now educates others on the realities of living with autism spectrum disorder.) Her video demonstrates how she perceives a seemingly simple and “routine” visit to the local coffee shop. While I cannot say I’ve been feeling this way, I really have been thinking back to this video in my times of feeling acoustically overwhelmed. I then wonder: “if I have problem filtering out the unwanted noise, how do those with autism or ADD/ADHD cope?” The video, I’m certain, does not do their experiences justice, but it’s a start.
I’ve also had some wonderful experience in the last couple of years in learning more about hearing impairment. Part of my job is to arrange for hearing assistance during large events. I’ve learned much about new technologies and ways to help those with special hearing needs. Part of that education included how and why those with hearing impairments cannot often understand simple speech in a crowded environment. While a typical person can filter out the background noise and focus on a conversation within a crowded room, those with hearing impairments often cannot focus on a particular voice and conversation is often “drowned out” by extraneous voices. Even the simplest of noises or the echo of a large room is enough to prevent a person with hearing disabilities from understanding what most people would consider clear speech.
So, what’s the point of this post? Part therapeutic for me, and part educational for you: if you know a person around you that has special needs (autism, ADHD, hearing impairment, etc.) be cognizant of the noise you make. Be aware of the distractions. Ask how you can help keep their anxiety to a minimum. And if there ever is a doubt, calm and quiet is often times the best answer.