“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”
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.)
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.”