That’s Not What I Hear

“So, okay,” I said, moving on to the next topic. “‘Why do noises bother Bud?’  Well, we said that our brains control all of our senses, and that means that sometimes Bud’s hair-dryer-brain senses are different from our toaster-brain senses.”

“Remember when we talked about things that Bud is really good at?  We said he has great hearing.  We said that sometimes his hearing is even better than ours.”

The children nodded.

“Well, sometimes that great hearing doesn’t feel so great to him.  Because he hears everything so well, sometimes the things that are just background noise to the rest of us are really distracting to him.

“Imagine if you were sitting at your desk working on a math problem, and people were having a quiet conversation over there in the corner.  It might be a little distracting, but you could probably tune it out and do your math.  But imagine if, because of the way your brain was wired, that quiet conversation sounded like someone was shouting in your ear.  Would you still be able to concentrate on your math?”

They shook their heads.

“No you probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate very well.  And that’s how it can feel for Bud.  With his great hair-dryer brain hearing, he hears EVERYTHING that’s going on, very clearly, and all at the same time – from people talking in the corner, to the sound of the light buzzing, to the sound of a car driving by outside, to the noises from other classrooms, to the sound of someone next to him tapping a pencil on the desk.  He hears it all, which makes it really hard for him to focus on his work.  So what do you think he uses to try to block out some of those noises?”

“His earplugs,” Molly offered.

“Or his headphones,” Keelin added.

“Or his fingers,” said Ms. Walker, putting her fingers in her ears.

“Or, if his hands are busy,” I said, “then, his shoulders.”  I cocked my head to the side and covered one ear with my shoulder, striking what I knew was a classic Bud pose.  “Have you seen him do that?”

They agreed that they had, and then offered their own experiences with distractibility, especially, they reported, given how NOISY some nearby classrooms could be.  Not surprisingly, I found that attention and focus were issues that were not unique to Bud.

“So,” I said, trying to rein in the wandering minds and bring back a little focus, “having his earplugs really helps Bud to have the quiet he needs to do work.  But there are some noises that REALLY bother Bud.  Do you know what any of those noises are?”

They knew, and they brainstormed the list quickly:

“He doesn’t like ‘BOO!'”

“Fire alarms.”

“He didn’t like the assembly where they were making banging noises.”

“He doesn’t like thunderstorms.”

“That’s exactly right,” I said.  “He doesn’t like loud noises that happen all of a sudden.  And the reason he doesn’t like them is that his brain reacts differently to them than your brain probably does.

“Imagine if you were in a haunted house and all of a sudden somebody jumped out and scared you.  What would happen?”

The children all started talking at once.

“That’s right,” I said. “You would scream, you would jump, your heart would beat fast.  And that would all happen because your brain told your body to react that way.  You wouldn’t stop and think to yourself, ‘Hmmm… somebody has just jumped out at me when I wasn’t expecting it.  I think I’ll scream and try to run away.'”

The children laughed.

“If somebody suddenly jumped out at you, your toaster brain would just automatically send a “DANGER” warning to your body, and your body would react instantly.  But Bud’s hair dyer brain sometimes sends those “DANGER” warnings to his body when things aren’t really dangerous.  So, when there are loud noises that he’s not expecting – babies crying, dogs barking, thunder, the fire alarm – his brain sends a “DANGER” warning to his body, and his body panics just the way yours would if somebody jumped out at you in a haunted house.

“Sometimes you might see Bud covering his ears even when there doesn’t seem to be a lot of noise going on.  Have you noticed that?”

They said that they had.

“You might especially see it when he’s going into a new place, or when he’s in a big crowd of people, or when he’s doing something new or something that’s not part of his regular routine.

“Here’s a question for you:  Have you ever watched a scary movie?” I asked.

“YES!” they replied.

“And have you ever gotten to a part in the movie when you thought something scary might happen, but you weren’t sure?  You wanted to keep watching the movie, but you didn’t want to be surprised and have your brain send that “DANGER” warning to your body?”

“YES!” they replied, laughing.

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“I kind of covered my eyes,” said Kelly. I looked around and saw that, throughout the room, children had their hands over their eyes, but were peeking out between their fingers. I put my hands over my eyes and peeked out at them.

“Of course!” I said, still peeking through my fingers.  “You kind of cover your eyes, so you can still see what’s going on.  But if something scary happens, you know you’ll be able to coverthemreallyquick!”  I slapped my hands over my eyes, and the children laughed again.

“That’s what Bud is doing when he puts his fingers in his ears, or when he covers one ear, in a new situation.  He’s not sure what to expect in that new situation or with those new people, and he’s not sure if something is going to happen that will give his body that “DANGER” warning.  So he gets himself ready to block his ears quickly, just in case.”

I heard soft “ooooh”s and saw nodding throughout the room.

Coming up next:  Question #6 - Why does Bud miss his mom so much?  Why does he get really attached to people and want to be with them all the time?

Mom-NOS’s That’s Not What I Hear, the seventh entry in a series for Mondays at Shift Journal, was first published at MOM – Not Otherwise Specified, and appears here under the terms of this Creative Commons License.

on 11/8/10 in Autism, featured | No Comments | Read More

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