Category Archives: Auditory

10 Tips for Dinning Out With a Sensory Friend

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In my last post “A side of decibels” I shared some ideas on what restaurants could do to make dinning out a more pleasant experience for those sensitive to noise.  I wanted to expand on this and address the other side, what we can do as patrons who are sensitive to noise to still enjoy going out to a happening restaurant.

1.  Go out after everyone is well rested.  Having a pool of energy to draw from will help one’s nervous system be able to better process high sensory input.

2.  Go out BEFORE meal time.  Don’t wait until you’re hungry, and your system is short circuiting.

3. Go out on a week night, when it’s less crowded and busy.  Go out early or late, so you’re not there at the same time as everyone else.

4. Ask to be seated (or seat yourself) in the quietest spot possible. Away from speakers, the kitchen, the entry way or the bathroom.

5. Ask your server if it would be possible for them to turn down the music as you have a guest who has hyper sensitive hearing. I’ve found at most restaurants where I’ve made this request, they are very accommodating and other guests are often grateful.

6. Bring sound canceling headphones, noise reduction ear protectors, or ear plugs.

7. Bring sensory soothing toys or fidgets.  Hand held fidgets, stress balls, or one of my daughter’s personal favorites: order a glass full of ice to suck and crunch on.

8. For smaller children, bring a safe place to escape to such as a pet bed or picnic blanket they can hide in under the table. Go for frequent walks outside. Visit your car to get a new toy or book. Invent reasons to find quiet places or moments for calming and deactivating the nervous system.

9.  Prepare those you may be meeting at the restaurant.  Let the people you’re meeting know you have someone with you who is very sensitive to noise, so they can understand if they need to take a brief walk, or wear ear protection.

10.  Celebrate a successful meal with no meltdowns!  (Stickers, Dessert, a special trip, a new toy, etc)

A side of decibels?

By | Auditory, Sensory Processing Disorder | One Comment

Let me start out by saying “I love you, San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants!”  You offer me unparalleled food quality, and a superb olfactory and gastronomic experience.  I’d even say you’re worth the money and the sometimes crazy lines.  You do food, customized and allergy friendly menus, personalized attention, crowd management, and sensationalism so well!  You’ve even started creating custom kid play spaces where the kids can play while the grown ups eat and drink (which I love!) But there is an area you’re failing, and it’s letting my whole family down.  You’re ASSAULTING our ears.

No, really, I get it. Your open-ceiling industrial-chic exposed ductwork looks awesome. I especially love the steam-punk dangling incandescent bulbs and the trendy back-lit bar. But that exposed celling, well; it’s a nightmare for acoustic reflections. Your un-covered concrete floors aren’t helping things either.

Since having a sensory child, we can’t go to trendy “family friendly” brew pubs in concrete buildings with echoing walls, blasting music, sports TV, foodies screaming at each other over the music, and dishes clanking in the back.   Nor can we go into South American cuisine restaurants with blasting salsa music, low flat ceilings, and walkie talkies for taking orders and transmitting them to the kitchen.  We now avoid Asian restaurants with oriental tunes, flickering florescent lights, and hard tile floors.  Our new favorite spots are food trucks on a funky corner, outdoor beer gardens, or unpopular restaurants with bamboo flooring, cloth wall hangings and table coverings, and low lighting.  Most often we just order to go and eat in the park.

The average noise level in restaurants has steadily increased.  Many people have come accustomed to having a minimum noise level and are able to filter much of the noise out.   However this isn’t, as many articles call out, a “young people vs old people” issue – this is a nuero-diversity issue.  Some people CAN NOT filter this type of noise.  Their nervous systems and brain functions work differently than other people, and there is no way they can simply ignore or filter the noise level.  There are lots of possible solutions out there, and I really wish more restaurants would at least take into consideration noise level as part of their fundamental design.

Simple solutions include table cloths, cloth wall hangings, and carpeted floors. Consider skipping the background music, or using soothing sounds such as waterfalls, rain drops, or other natural and relaxing sounds.  Acoustic tiles are around a dollar per square foot on Amazon, and 20 or more of these glued to your concrete walls and ceilings would go a long way to dampen the sound. More expensive options might include private dinning spaces, or high end designs including customized architecture and sound design, like these Oakland Restaurants!

However it is delivered, I would be a much happier restaurant patron if my little girl wasn’t so overwhelmed with noise that she turns into a terrified animal fleeing the scene (bolting out the door, just as I order my food, and running down the street).  Please hold the side of decibels with my meal.  I’d like to eat calmly with my family and enjoy the astonishing flavors in your food!

You Don’t Just Have To Ride It Out

By | Auditory, Sensory Processing Disorder, Visual | No Comments

You Don’t Just Have to Ride It Out – 3 Tools for Reaching Your Child While In a Sensory Meltdown

I’ve been troubled lately by a few articles and blog posts I’ve read on “Riding Out the Sensory Meltdown.”  The general idea of these posts is that there is nothing we can do for a child in a Sensory Meltdown other than be there for them and waiting for it to end.  Now granted, being there counts for a lot, and I commend every parent who is there for their child through a Sensory Meltdown.  In those moments our children no longer have control of themselves and need any and all comfort and help we have to give them.  I’ve learned over the past 4 years that there’s a lot more I can do for my daughter than just be there, and these three tools have helped tremendously in reducing the frequency and duration of meltdowns.

A Sensory Meltdown is a form of panic, a form of purely instinctual, animal brain response to something the system has registered as a life or death threat.   Fight or flight.  And so, we need to reach the instinct, the nervous system, to calm a child in this state.

Tool 1:  Take a Deep Breath!
If you can, catch your child before the meltdown hits with full force.  Interrupt their emotional trajectory with a strong but gentle “Take a Deep Breath!” And then do it yourself, audibly so they can hear, with your hands on your stomach so they can see and feel you fill your stomach with air, and then let it out slowly by either blowing it out (like blowing bubbles) or sighing it out saying “Ahhhhhhhh.”  If you’re not able to get to them before they’ve “checked out” into non responsiveness you can still do this breathing yourself to model it, even if they don’t participate.  It will help keep you calm, which in turn helps keep them calm.

How this works:  Deep breathing allows more oxygen to travel to the brain, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body to calm down.

Tool 2:  Look Around You!
If you can, help draw your child’s attention to something up high (above their eyeline) and then gradually all around. Some times I’ll shout or whisper excitedly “Look!” And point.   A painting, the moon, a light, a fly, a bug, anything to get them to move their eyes around.   Once you’ve got their attention keep drawing their eyes to new things at a measured pace (not too fast) or ask them to help you visually find something.  If they become calm enough begin a game of “I spy.”

How this works:  The ocular nerve has an impact on the hypothalamus which is responsible for triggering the fight or flight response.  Moving the eyes to look all around helps a child’s nervous system to register there is no immediate life or death threat and helps their brains conceptualize that they are safe.

Tool 3: Rhythm
We are fundamentally beings of rhythm.   Our heart beat is our life rhythm.  Rhythm helps to sooth us.   We find rhythm in physical movement, sound, vibration, or other sensation (use trial and error to discover what is most soothing for your child). Rocking back and forth, bouncing, drumming, tapping, listening to your heart beat on your chest, feeling your chest rise and fall with your deep breaths, poetry, a rhyme, a chant, a song, a story, a visual pattern.  Once our family was on a long road trip and our sensory kid started to loose it (she couldn’t take being in her car seat a second longer!).   I turned on the “Llama Llama Red Pajama” audio book by Anna Dudney, and our daughter immediately went quiet and listened to the rhythmic story…   “llama llama red pajama…” I’ve used this several times since with lots of success.

How it works:  Our bodies, including our brain and nervous system specialize in rhythm.  It is programmed into who we are and it can have very soothing effects on our bodies and minds.


She Can’t Hear You

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We went to the annual Berkeley Kite festival a couple of weeks ago.   Isis (3.5 yrs.) loves kites (in addition to finding them romantic I think she loves the proprioceptive input – the feel of the kite tugging on her arm and the wind blowing her body).  I was worried about the crowds but I knew she’d handle it for the sake of kites and bouncy houses.   It was an added bonus our “shuttle”  from the parking lot was a bonefied full size yellow school bus!   If there is anything cooler than a kite, it’s a school bus, and this was her and her younger sister Kali’s very first school bus ride.  “Oh, is it going to take us to school, mama!?” She asked me in wonder.  “Nope,” said daddy “it’s going to take us to the Kite Festival!” “Oh great! ” She burst out.

After our bus adventure, our next mission as decreed by our daughter was to fly her kite.  Since we totally failed as parents and didn’t bring her kite, we had to avail ourselves of one of the free paper kites she got to color on before attempting to fly.  Then it was on to the next thing, and she again was walking in the crowds in the opposite direction of her family.  “Isis, this way!” my husband shouts after her.   But I know she doesn’t hear him even though she’s still less than 6 feet away… My consciousness slips into hers and for a brief second my vision tunnels and I hear what she hears… Everything – all at once – at full volume – with no filters – The beat of the pop music blaring for the kite competition: “boom chuk, boom chuk, boom chuk” , all the conversations happening above her head in the truly diverse fashion of the east Bay “hoa bu hao” “va manos” “taiko”, the wind “whoooooosh” the vibrating kites “wawawawa” and then I flash back to my own body.  I give my husband the “it’s sensory” look (ya you develop one of those as a parent with a kid with SI challenges) and say “She can’t hear you.”  He knows just what to do, he launches after her, sweeps her up in his arm, and physical reorients her in the direction we were headed.   Now physically and visually on track – our family happily carries on.

Sensory Snippet – Put yourself in your child’s shoe’s and experience the world through your raw senses.  If you’re in a place with a lot of different sounds / noises or a particular type of sound you know they’re sensitive to and they’re not listening it’s not because they’re being obstinate.   Literally, “She can’t hear you”.  

Sensory Solution: Get their attention and communicate in a non-auditory way.  Gently pull them out of their sensory state by physically lifting, pointing, turning, etc as needed.   Or find a less stimulating place to talk.


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