As a mum of three children and an owner of a business, I don’t often have time to just sit and listen. But every now and then, I make a point to stop what I’m doing – and for a moment, just listen. Try it now. Just stop whatever you are doing and listen to all the sounds you can hear. Now, imagine that your body did that every day without you wanting it to. You might be sitting eating dinner, and you can hear the cutlery clinking, or the knife hit the plate as it cuts the chops, or the exhaust fan in the kitchen, or the news on the television. And all you want to do is enjoy your dinner.
It’s probably not something you have turned your mind to (well at least it wasn’t for me), until I started reading ASD books and learnt about auditory sensitivities which are common amongst people on the Spectrum.
It is amazing to go for a walk with Jayden and watch as he instantly reacts to every noise that he hears. As we walk he’ll hear a bike bell ring behind us, a dog bark, a tree whooshing in the wind, the birds chirping, children playing in their front yard, people talking across the road and the motorbike zipping down the road. Normally I would just be walking lost in my own thoughts, never noticing any of these things happening around me. Whilst for me a walk brings a sense of peace, for Jayden it can be a sensory overload. With so many noises and a heightened sense of awareness of everything happening around him, it can be incredibly stressful. It can also be quite exhausting, and not just from the exercise, but from the mental stimulation as well.
Focusing on a particular task can also be challenging for Jayden. Because he is focusing on the noises around him, he either gets anxious or simply distracted, trying to work out what the noise is. There is not a day that goes by where Jayden doesn’t ask “Did you hear that?”. And together, we sit and work out what that noise was and how it makes us feel. Sometimes we may be doing some writing or playing Super Mario Lego, and everything needs to stop until we work out what the noise is.
Some noises are easier to manage than others. For example, loud noises. We will always prepare Jayden if we’re about to start making loud noises. We’ll warn him if we are going to put the vacuum on, if there are loud hand dryers we’ll cover his ears, or if we are going to pop the balloons we’ll let him know to go into the next room. These noises are easier to plan for and manage. But there’s so many other noises that you wouldn’t even think of that can sometimes make Jayden anxious. These are some of our concerns as we prepare for Jayden to start school next year. Just think for a moment about all the different noises in a school classroom or school yard. We are also concerned about the interruption to his focus if all these noises are taking so much of his energy.
There are some things we can do to help, which include:
· Work with his occupational therapist to look at Jayden’s sensory processing needs and find strategies to assist him;
· Slowly work with him to learn to cope with the loud noises (rather than avoid them);
· Ranking any anxiety he may have as a result of noises from mild to severe and work on them with his OT to introduce coping strategies (like deep breathing and appropriate reactions).
So, with all the stress and anxiety noises can bring to Jayden, why would I say going for a walk with him is amazing? Because of what he has taught me. Sometimes I don’t appreciate the little things in life. Sometimes I am so busy in my own world, that I don’t stop to appreciate what is going on around me. And whilst I am fortunate that I have the option to switch it on and off to suit my needs, there are so many little things going on around us every minute of every day that we just take for granted. I guess being in lockdown I have seen this more and more, because while many of us say the streets are so quiet and the shops are empty, you will find there is still a lot of noise. We just aren’t listening.
Next time you go for a walk, nip down to the shops or just sit in your backyard, take a moment to stop and ask yourself, “What’s that noise?”.