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Superpowers Revisited or Why We Have 6 Pairs of Headphones In The House

by Brad Ludwig

It's amazing what you can get for about $3 that will help keep your child's sanity.

I spoke in a previous post how Autism doesn't grant you superpowers. That's a more blanket statement of Autistics who can tell you all the ERAs of Major Leaguers from 1965 to today or are lightning fast calculators of complex math equations. That is very rare.

Alex relaxing during his class trip to a water park in May 2013.
I also mentioned that most children with Autism are born with a sensory processing disorder. Alex seems to have hypersensitive touch and hearing. For example, he will pet his cat with the back of his hand because the feel of the fur overloads him if he uses the front of his hand. He will actually grit his teeth and make 'the face'. You know, the face you make when you've just touched something that freaks you out. Like a crunchy bug, slippery snake or a slimy fish. Yeah, that face. What I really want to focus on, in this post, is his occasional need to wear hearing protection to help him tune out all the sounds around him. For the purpose of explaining this, I'm gonna need you to do something. Close your eyes and really listen to the world around you. Do you hear a clock ticking? The sound of the refrigerator fan running? The sound of a gas burner on your stove (if you have a gas stove)? A neuro-typical person (a term used for non-autistic) can tune those sounds in and out. This article may better explain this. Essentially, we have a system that will allow us to pick up on specific sounds and tune out the others we don't want to hear.
Imagine if that system was not in place and you could hear everything... all at once. Could you focus on your work? Would you not respond if someone called you name? Would you be scared if a sudden noise joined in the cacophony in your head? These are all things that Alex struggles with, on a daily basis.

It's like he has super hearing but no way to control it.

Alex and I planting flowers in the backyard May 2013

He covers his ears, quite often. Usually in response to a sudden sound or continual amount of loud sounds. I thought it would be a good idea to visit the local store and get a couple pair of ear protection headphones for Alex to free up his hands for other things. They were on sale for $3 each. I then had a pair for the house and in the car. That way we are ready for 'sound emergencies' anywhere. The trouble is, the pair in the car may wander into the house or vice versa. We've ended up getting a number of pair, at this point.

I had an occasion to find out how sensitive his hearing can be. We were at a large retail store, doing our regular weekly shopping. Alex was having a 'sound issue' on that particular Friday, so we put the headphones on before entering the store. Needless to say, it was pretty busy that night. People rushing about to get their shopping done so they could begin their weekend. Alex had walked away from me and the cart to take a look at some toys. I had a brief moment of clarity and thought I should give him my own hearing test. I just said, "Alex" at a quite conversation level. You know, the sound level between 'library gossip' and 'good to see you'? He stopped and turned to look at me. He heard me, through the noise of the store and the padding in the earphones.

That opened my eyes to so much. He can hear but has a hard time focusing. (Also, he's an 11 year old boy who may not want to listen to what Dad is saying.) It also raised some other questions. Sometimes, he'll say some words, extra loud. Is he trying to speak over all the sound he's hearing in his head? (It could also be he's excited by his answer. What do you want for lunch? PIZZA!)

I still have a lot of questions about his hearing. What he's hearing, if he's hearing everything I've said... I may never get answers to these questions. That's okay. The search for answers gives me better insight into my awesome little boy.

------ UPDATE -----
My ex-wife read this and reminded me to let people know about a modification you can do to the headphones.

The image at the top of this page is Alex at an indoor waterpark. Indoor waterparks are VERY loud and Alex really needs headphones to be able to enjoy himself. My ex-wife told me about this great idea to waterproof headphones. The inside part of the headphones, that dampens the noise, is foam. Foam absorbs water, so how do you fix that?
My ex-wife is brilliant. She says grab some zip lock sandwich bags, put the foam inserts inside the bag, squeeze out the extra air (without squishing the foam), zip it shut and put them back inside the headset.

Alex had a great time and was able to safely use his headphones all day.