Sensory Series: Five Ways to Manage Auditory Distractions

12 Oct

“You turn up your music to hide the noise. Other people turn up their music to hide yours. You turn up yours again. Everyone buys a bigger stereo system. This is the arms race of sound. You don’t win with a lot of treble. This isn’t about quality. It’s about volume.” — Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

For individuals with autism spectrum disorders, volume is just one of the issues that turns sound into a deadly weapon. While the classic hands-over-ears strategy is useful, it is not timeless due to age inappropriateness. Fireworks, semi-trucks, and other loud noises are bothersome but not always the biggest distraction when it comes to sound. Those little sounds, the opening and closing of a door behind a door, the ticking of a clock, the hard drive on a computer, snapping, can be as distracting as an M80. As such, I have started a list of small, ever-so-simple and subtle ways to tame the auditory war.

1. Ear Plugs

The upsides: Cheap, easily accessible, portable, many comfort options

The downsides: Obvious (at times), can reduce noise “too much”

2. Hoodies

The upsides: Fashion trend, creates a “cocoon” of safety

The downsides: Most schools don’t allow their students to wear their hoods “up” due to safety concerns and most adults can pull off the Unibomber look without concern, either

3. Headphones (Noise canceling or otherwise)

The upsides: Another fashion trend (Lady Gaga even has a sound referencing this trend), connect to iPod/mp3 player for additional calm and anxiety reduction

The downsides: Very obvious, not applicable to all environments

4. White Noise

The upsides: Many different variations, such a fans, the ocean, rain, the jungle, etc.

The downsides: Usage limited to specific environments (i.e. home, classroom, bedroom, etc.)

5. Gum

The upsides: Discrete, flavorful, and applicable in most environments

The downsides: Sometimes doesn’t create “enough” sound

“Anymore, no one’s mind is their own. You can’t concentrate. You can’t think. There’s always some noise worming in.” (Palahniuk, Lullaby) In the end, no strategy will “cancel noise”.  But, that doesn’t seem to be the goal for individuals on the spectrum anyways. They want a reprieve to concentrate, breathe, be. They want a strategy to control what their mind thinks about. “This isn’t about [sound]. It’s about winning.”


Posted by on October 12, 2010 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


3 responses to “Sensory Series: Five Ways to Manage Auditory Distractions

  1. Casdok

    October 12, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    My son hums (with his fingers in ears).

  2. Corina Becker

    October 14, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    At home, I have an air cleaner that actually is pretty effective in providing a soft, background sound filter.

    But a lot of the time, headphones. Headphones with music on and now with my new ipod, all sorts of de-stressing apps. I also recommend some of the tracks from B-Calm Sound; the sound of rain, or a shower, or wind that is designed to provide a buffer for certain pitches of annoying sounds, and still be able to play at a volume where one can talk and respond to stuff. I’ve actually tried out one of their tracks, shower, because I found I concentrated and actually understood lessons better when sitting in the bathroom with the bath going. I wrote a review for it:

    But yeah, what I’ve noticed is that in teens and some adults, it’s become acceptable to wear headphones when going out and about.


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