Welcome to the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast. I’m Adina Levy from Play. Learn. Chat. I’m a neurodivergent speech therapist. And I’m obsessed with creating a world when neurodiversity is understood, embraced, supported, and celebrated. Join me as we have conversations about autistic, ADHD, neurodivergent experiences, and I share how you can support neurodivergent children in your world.
Let’s all work together to make change where change is needed so that the world can be a more friendly place for neurodivergent people and for everyone.
I want to share with you a bit of an insight into the experiences of an autistic person, that’s me, with significant challenges with auditory sensitivity. So what that means is that I have a lot of sensory preferences and needs related to things that I hear.
First I’m going to share how I personally experience my auditory sensory sensitivities. And then I’m going to share a few strategies that help. They help both myself and my daughter as well.
And you might also find that these are strategies that help autistic or auditory sensitive kids in your life, or even yourself.
My personal experience of sound and my audio world is that I have a pretty small range of what’s acceptable going into my ears, that keeps me feeling well regulated and attuned and on and engaged in the way that I need to be for whatever activity I’m trying to do.
The more that I’ve learnt and considered my own sensory differences and preferences and needs, the more that I’ve been able to set up my audio world in a way that is most supportive for me, and also to self advocate where I need to interact with other people around these aspects of my sensory experience.
And this comes back to a theme that I teach and talk a lot about, which is the idea of self knowledge needing to come first before self advocacy. So essentially you need to know and understand yourself. What helps you, what’s challenging, what makes you feel great, what makes you feel distracted.
And the more you know about yourself, the more that you’re then able to put in accommodations, to seek those accommodations, to ask for the support you need.
So as I mentioned, it’s a bit of a fine balancing act to get my auditory world just right. I really struggle with silence. Let’s just start there. It’s not just all about turning the volume down, but when I’m in a completely silent space, I feel quite distracted and disconnected. Silence does not really work for me.
I spend a lot of time setting up my music playlists and when I’m working or throughout my day. I very carefully curate my music and auditory experience, depending on what mood I need, or what kind of alertness I need to put myself in, and priming myself for certain ways of thinking or acting.
I do this very consciously, I spend a lot of effort on this, and it pays off, it really helps me feel more regulated and able to do the different kinds of activities that I ask of myself throughout the day.
But it still takes time and effort, so that’s something to acknowledge.
On the flip side, I’m very sensitive to certain noises, and here are some of the noises that can be significant triggers for me. And when I say triggers, that might be predominantly noises that I can’t control, and that are unexpected. These are the noises that I really, really struggle with. So, things like traffic sounds, idling vehicles, or revving motorcycles, or garbage trucks, power tools, leaf blowers, and I happen to find leaf blowers one of the most inane tools that exists, because we have things like rakes and brooms.
So there’s a bit of a dual layered frustration there that it’s both very loud and uncontrollable noise for me, because I’m not the one using the leaf blower, and I also happen to believe that they’re pretty unnecessary items. So I feel like the impact multiplies there.
Fire alarm beeps, high pitched noises, screeching,
whinging children. All of these kinds of sounds, they feel to me like they worm their way into the middle of my brain and just literally push a big warning alert button. Now in the case of fire alarms, um, that’s probably a good thing.
That’s kind of what they’re designed to do. But if you’ve ever had a malfunctioning one, one with the battery going low, You’ll know that kind of beep, that warning beep that I’m thinking about, which is so loud and so surprising. And it also is in your safe space, you know, it’s in your home, you’re trying to relax or do your home things or perhaps even sleep.
And these big blaring noises just go off in what feels like a pretty random way.
All of these kinds of noises I find really, really challenging to deal with. And the result for me is, it depends. It depends on my baseline levels and sort of how else I’m feeling and what other kinds of stresses or anxieties I’m experiencing in that moment as well.
So my response to these kinds of noises can be anywhere from feeling distracted on a good day, to feeling quite on edge, and sometimes even anger. So sometimes my response to certain sounds might seem to someone on the outside as an irrational anger response. It’s Something that is quite out of my control.
And so if, for example, I’m trying to get some work done that’s really important and I’m feeling a little bit pressed and pressured and let’s say I’m trying to record a podcast episode and I don’t have much window of time to do so, And I have to pause because there’s a garbage truck rumbling outside the door.
Which is out of my control, noisy, distracting, and impacting on my ability to tick things off my list and move through what I need to do. That can lead me to feel incredibly angry, to the point that I want to, but I don’t, run out there and shout at them to go the heck away. To get out of there. I don’t do that.
I just sit there and stew, and stew, and stew, and finally when that moment is over and the noisy truck rumbles away, it can still leave me feeling incredibly dysregulated. It’s very hard for me to come back to a level of focus and calm, and get on with the things that I need to do. Even just talking about this now is getting me a little bit riled up. I can feel my heart rate increasing. there’s not even a rumbly truck outside, thankfully.
One of the challenges that I experience in my auditory world, as an autistic person, and I know this is a common experience for many other autistic people, and ADHDers as well, is a real difficulty filtering different sounds and being able to prioritise, let’s say, or focus on the sounds that should be most important.
These auditory processing difficulties mean that sometimes all the different channels of noise going into my ears I’m competing and battling against each other, and it’s very hard for me to pick out, what should probably be most important. So if the TV is on, and somebody is trying to talk to me, I have a huge amount of difficulty filtering out what should be the background noise of the TV, and tuning into that interaction and that person’s speech.
Similarly, if I’m at a noisy bar or pub, which I don’t do all that frequently these days. And partly it’s because it is so, so effortful for me to, A, keep regulated in a noisy, unpredictable environment, and B, keep my focus on those social interactions and the speech of people that I’m trying to communicate with.
I can do it with great effort, but that effort comes at an energetic cost.
There’s one more auditory challenge that I have to address, and it’s all linked in with the idea of motivation. So this is something that I think a lot of parents can relate to, where you might notice that your child has a lot of auditory sensitivities in some situations, but for other types of sounds that you deem perhaps noisier or more distracting than trigger sounds, they’re quite fine with.
So the impact of motivation is really, really important here. I love coffee. I love making my coffee in the morning. I love drinking my coffee. I am very motivated by coffee.
I do not love the noise of my coffee grinder at home, and also in cafes as well. In cafes there’s so many layers of noises too. Let’s just take the coffee grinder at home. I am especially auditory sensitive in the mornings, before I’ve had my coffee. So here we have a bind, my friends. What do you do when you are very auditory sensitive to the noise of the coffee grinder that is going to give you those ground coffee beans that are going to help you feel like a more regulated human once you can make that coffee.
In most cases I can push through the discomfort of that sound for a few reasons. One, my motivation for it is very high. I know that that sound is happening for a good reason. Two, I’m in control of it. I’m the one starting and stopping, so I know when it’s happening and I know how long it’s going to go for. Three, sometimes I reach for an extra support, like I might have my AirPods in my ears so I’ve got something a bit more pleasant that blocks out some of that sound.
And four, it’s a very short noise. So that’s part of the control piece, I suppose. I know that it’s going to end soon. It doesn’t go for a very long time.
But to me, the biggest important piece about that coffee grinder experience is my motivation is very high. So, you know, humans are quite complex beings, and we don’t just exist on a sensory level. All of our sensory experiences are blended in with all of the other factors of our life. The social aspects, our intrinsic motivation to want to do something from within ourselves, and many other factors too.
Some of the other noises that I don’t love and my daughter as well does not love are things like our Thermomix, but I love having a smoothie. So again, very motivating and I can even see the timer of it ticking down. The noise of the vacuum cleaner is also incredibly uncomfortable, so I will usually use that when I’ve got AirPods in my ears, unless I know it’s going to be for a very short amount of time. And again, I’ve got the control over that device, so I know when it’s going to start and stop.
Another sensory experience that I find very aversive is little grains of dust or sand or dirt under my feet on the floorboards.
So, the vacuuming again, while it’s not an incredibly fun job, it’s a very motivating one to have completed, because I know that the floor underfoot is going to feel a lot better to me. So I can bear the noise for a number of reasons.
I’ve already touched a little bit on some of the strategies that I use that help me cope with different noises, or some of the factors that can make things a bit easier for me, and I’m going to list them out here.
So firstly, for both myself and my four year old daughter, having some control over that noise and over that sound situation, which involves a bit of preparation, is highly important. So when we’re about to turn the Thermomix on, if my daughter’s with me, I give her a choice. She can choose whether she’s ready to stand next to me and join in, or whether she wants to go into a different room and close the door before I turn it on.
We’ve practiced this for years and she now has a quite well developed sense of where her own tolerance levels are in any moment. Sometimes she will choose to stay with me because she quite likes watching the timer tick down.
And other times she will absolutely just decide to run off and close the door and shout, ready! And then I’ll turn it on.
Similarly, as I’ve mentioned, some of those noises, like the coffee grinder, the vacuum, they’re not too hard for me when I’m in control. I can cope because I know when it’s about to go on, when it’s about to go off, and how long it’s going to go for, and I have that control over it. A lot of the kids in our lives don’t have that much control over their world, so it’s something I want us all to consider, how can we bring more control or at minimum preparation, for the kids in our lives if they are going to be experiencing a sensation that is potentially aversive for them. Think about how you can get them involved or at least give them some warning and notice about what’s coming up. And potentially plan some supports together.
This is not a paid advertisement, but my noise cancelling headphones, so my Apple AirPods, are such a big, key, important part of my life that help me do many things. They help me go to the shopping centre, they help me go for a walk, they help me feel more regulated when I need to do boring home things, or noisy home things.
Sometimes I have just one in, and sometimes I have both in. And I can vary that up. Many people like different types of noise cancelling headphones. For some people, those in earbud ones don’t work and they don’t feel comfortable. I know that there are regular types of earplugs. There’s loop earplugs, which come in different levels of noise blocking. There’s over ear, earmuffs. There are so many different options. And I would suggest that if you are quite an auditory sensitive person, or a child in your life is, Keep experimenting until you find some combination of things that works, even if it’s not all the time, but it sometimes works to help make any noise environment feel more palatable or more okay.
It’s really important to acknowledge baseline regulation levels. So I’ve already mentioned a few scenarios where I feel more or less regulated overall. Okay. And in those moments where I feel more regulated in general, I have a better tolerance for a particular moment of something not very comfortable. So if I’m feeling good and relaxed and calm and happy, and I have comfortable clothes on, and I don’t have seams and tags rubbing, and I don’t have a very busy, distracted mind, I can cope with a little bit of random motorcycle idling nearby. it won’t throw me off too much.
However, if I’m starting from a baseline where I haven’t slept very much, and it’s the morning, and we’re running late,
and I’m struggling to plan my next steps to get myself and my daughter ready for the day, and I’m a bit nervous about something coming up that day, and my favourite comfortable socks are in the wash, I will absolutely flip out if there’s a big, loud, surprising leaf blower noise outside our front door.
This same idea is just so important to think about for the neurodivergent kids in your world and potentially for yourself as well.
It’s really a bit of a constant game of trying to keep ourselves as regulated as possible so that we are better able to cope with the things that are less in our control.
So as much as possible, provide sensory supports and pleasures and joys pre-emptively Help the neurodivergent kids in your life have pleasant experiences their whole day on every sensory level. Help them feel supported and loved and regulated and calm in as many ways as possible.
Which means there’s less impact when things inevitably go a little bit pear shaped or are tricky, whether that’s from a sensory aspect or other aspects in life.
The last point that I want to reiterate is this idea of building self knowledge and self awareness about our own sensory needs and preferences and joys and challenges. And of course, supporting kids to build their own identity and understand their own sensory needs and challenges. And that can lead to self advocacy.
So for my daughter, at the end of a long daycare day, she might sometimes just say, I want some quiet time and walks off and goes to do something quietly on her own. That self advocacy did not happen overnight. We’ve practised it, we’ve modelled it, and most importantly, when she has requested quiet time, in almost every situation, we honour that, and give her feedback that that’s a really good thing to request.
So I shall wrap it up there. I hope that this has been an interesting insight into one autistic person’s brain and how noise impacts my life and some of the things that I do to support myself through that.
I’d love to hear what your takeaways have been from listening to this podcast. Come and find me on Instagram, or on LinkedIn, Facebook, share your insights, or what it made you think about, or if there’s anything that you’re going to try for yourself or for a neurodivergent child that you support.
And a quick announcement, if you are a speech therapist listening, and I know there are quite a lot of you, I hope that you’ll consider joining me in the next round of my course for speechies, Affirming Communication for Autistic Children.
Those who are on the waitlist are going to get the best value offer, so the doors are opening in around about a month, in the middle of November, I’ll pop the link in the show notes where you can go to find out more and get yourself on the waitlist for the Affirming Communication for Autistic Children course, which is for speech therapists all around the world.
That’s S P E E C H I E hyphen course and that is where you can go to hop on the wait list so you get first access and the best bonuses and offers for the next round of the course.
If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a friend and join me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m @play.learn.chat
, you’ll find all the links that we discussed in the show notes.
Have a spectacular, regulated day!