Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Mystery of Sound

We were pulled up at a gas station, and Ethan had his door cracked open because he loves to watch the numbers as the tank fills up (if only he knew how depressing those numbers are -- darned Connecticut gas prices!). A box truck pulled up and began backing in towards the pumps, making a beeping noise.

"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" Ethan sang with each beep, perfectly matching the tone of the truck's beeps. He didn't seem upset or stressed, just matter-of-fact.

"Ethan," I asked, getting back into the car. "Are you singing like that because the sound of the truck is bothering you?"

"Yeah," he answered. "Why does it do that?"

One of the things that's been most gratifying over the last year or so is seeing Ethan articulate the way he feels, good or bad, about certain sounds, lights, or textures. We've all heard it said -- behavior is communication. Nine times out of ten, a screaming child on the spectrum is not just being a brat but is bothered -- or overwhelmed, even in a good way -- by a sound or a light or a feeling that is just too much.

Actually for Ethan, he was rarely the screaming type -- instead, he'd "zone out," particularly when it related to sounds. Ethan has what we call superpower hearing. I'm not just saying this. We actually took a little test online that captured what frequencies you can hear, and he scored off the charts...well beyond Anna, never mind me or Dan.

I'd see him in the church nursery, overwhelmed by a new room, and unfamiliar, noisy kids, escaping by lying on the floors and pushing the garage doors on the dollhouse up and down, up and down. He'd make the garage door opening noise again and again; a soothing hum that blocked everything else out.

A teacher a few years ago told me he was seeming to zone out at school sometimes. Gym was one area. Turns out, he was petrified when they'd open or close the huge automatic door they used to divide up the gym. It was too big, too strange. And in class he'd be the one child most startled by the suddenness of the PA system breaking through with an announcement; the slam of a door down the hall; the scream of a child somewhere. And so he'd freeze. His eyes would glaze over and he'd almost look through people sometimes.

But now, thank God, he is able to tell us. And I've noticed that the more he is able to articulate what he actually feels, the less he wordlessly disappears into his own world whenever a sound bothers him.

Ethan has informed me, over the past few months, that he does not like popping bubble gum bubbles, our furnace when it rumbles to life, whining electric saws, radio static, Anna playing her recorder close to him in the car, and our huge ancient fan built into the ceiling in the upstairs hallway that rattles and shakes.

And while we can't always accommodate him (I'm not going to tell people they can't ever blow bubbles around him) we can acknowledge what he's feeling, tell him we're sorry it's bothering him, and try to make it better.

I find it funny that while Ethan is sooo sensitive to certain sounds, some of the traditional ones that would drive other people crazy, he doesn't mind at all. I can't stand the beeping "Don't Walk" signs around town -- he sings along with them. A nails on the chalkboard moment has never bothered him. And when we were riding the subways in Boston, he had no problem at all with the high pitched screeches of the trains' brakes.

It's all part of the mystery of who he is, I guess. But thankfully, as he begins to tell us more and more, we have a better opportunity to crack open a window, and really see inside him.


Unknown said...

I follow your blog through Bloglovin' and this is the first time I've had a problem so I don't know if the problem is BL, Blogger, your blog, Captcha or operator error but I thought I would let you know. I could not post a comment until I left BL and separately Googled your blog. Weird.
Anyway, original comment was just going to be that I thought this was an interesting insight into Ethan's hearing. It certainly wasn't earth-shattering! lol

Deb said...

Thanks for the feedback...I'll check it out!

Kelli McIntosh said...

I loved reading this particular post because my son, age 7, is currently nonverbal and has sensory issues. It is the same for him, as far as not being bothered by the noises I hate but being bothered by ones I would not expect. I hope that one day he will be able to articulate what he feels like your son can now do!