Monday, February 18, 2013

Super Sensitive Hearing

   Things were moving along nicely for Mikey in school, and generally, he appeared to be happy. Aside from our occasional hellish rides to the drive-thru, things were going well. We hadn't seen any head banging in quite some time. He did still fiddle with his hands, and rip a lot of things, but that wasn't anything we couldn't handle.
   As the year moved along, we started to notice that certain sounds were causing him to become distressed. I had often heard of children with autism or sensory issues having problems with different noises, but we had never experienced first hand....until now. Whenever our phone rang, he would cover his ears.We thought it was odd, but apparently, it bothered him. We lowered the volume on the phone....but it still bothered him. As a matter of fact, there were times when the phone rang, and it would bring him to tears immediately. We decided to turn the ringer off completely, and relied on hearing voices speak through our answering machine in order to know when a call was coming in.
   We also noticed that our dog barking was getting him upset as well. Anytime a truck went down our block, someone knocked on our door,the mailman came, or anyone walked past our house, the dog would bark. It sent Mikey over the edge.Funny thing was, if we were outside, and he heard any other dog bark, it did not phase him at all. We wondered if perhaps it was the echo in the house, but we were not sure.It got to the point where if we heard a truck coming, or knew the mail was about to be delivered, we would run through the house, find the dog, and bring him to the room furthest from the front door,in an effort to distract him. Often times, it did not work. As the dog barked, Mikey would sob and sob, and just be miserable. We thought about finding another home for our dog, but our other children adored him.We found ourselves, yet again, in a difficult position.
   Many may not be familiar with this, but in our neighborhood, whenever the fire department has a call, a loud siren goes off at the fire house. This, was the worst noise of all. Anytime, it went off, Mikey flipped. I asked a volunteer fireman why they still used these sirens, and if there wasn't some alternate method for them to notify the volunteers of a fire, like a radio. I was told that this is how they have done it for years, and although the radios were helpful, there was no indication that the whistle would stop blowing. What made matters worse, was that it did not blow once or twice a blew all of the time.
   It was fair to say that between telephones,the dog, and the fire whistle, Mikey was distressed more often than not. We had solved the phone issue by turning the ringer off. Easy enough. While we contemplated what to do about the dog, we realized that although it was driving us crazy, it was not fair to take the dog away from the other boys, who already had made many sacrifices in other respects for their brother. Unfortunately, the fire whistle was completely out of our contol.
   I remembered back to when I had to take Mikey for a hearing test to be sure he could hear.Seemed odd now , as his hearing seemed to be excellent, almost too good. He heard things that the rest of us hardly noticed or paid attention to. Yet, loud noises such as fireworks, balloons popping, loud cars, or even the actual fire trucks, never bothered him at all. Living with this was by no means easy, but was interesting to say the least.
   After awhile, whenever one of these offensive sounds would upset Mikey, he would seek me out, no matter where he was. Unfortunately, I do not think it was for comfort,rather he would find me,and pinch me hard. Very hard. I am not sure if it was his way of making me understand how much the noise bothered his ears, or if he was mad at me for not controlling it, or if it was just a form of release for him. Whatever the reason, it became a habit, a painful habit, and no matter how often we tried to make him understand that he should not do it, it did not work. It seemed as if he could not rest  or calm down until he found me and pinched me after one of these sounds. Never did it to Mike, or Chris ,or even Timmy. Just me, and later on Sean. We found ourselves dealing with another difficult side of autism. We had to be consistent in our efforts to help him stop, and it would take quite some time (years) to overcome this aversion to these noises.
    I am happy to say, that he has since gotten over the phone issue.It never bothers him anymore. As for the dog, he has mellowed, and although he still jumps up whenever he hears a noise, his bark does not bother Mikey the way it once did. Mikey will now try to distract our dog from the window on his own. Unfortunately, the fire whistle still blows all of the time, but now Mikey simply covers his ears and hums until it stops. The temper tantrums, sobbing and pinching of long ago have thankfully subsided. It is interesting how little sounds, that we hear and take for granted each day, can be absolutely excruciating for a child or person with sensory issues or autism. Our experiences with all of these things is one of the reasons that I always encourage others to be grateful for the little things. The everyday things. If you are able to go about your day and not be bothered by any of these common things , consider yourself lucky. I can tell you first hand, it isn't easy.


  1. Jack sometimes covers his ears due to a sound but he'll more likely do it if he doesn't want to do something or if he's nervous. It looks kinda foolish at times with me trying to hold one of his hands to walk in somewhere when he's nervous. he's got one hand on his ear and on the other side, his ear pressed against my arm. emma is very good at trying to make him laugh by whispering (think irish whisper) in his ears, "there's nothing wrong with this ear!" and doing again and again in each ear. he is starting to outgrow this, as well.

  2. Mikey has done a number on his ears.....I swear he has no cartilage left in the top part of his ears!