She Can't Hear You - An Auditory Processing Adventure
Originally written July 25, 2015
We went to the annual Berkeley Kite festival today. My daughter 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 against her body). I was worried about the crowds (as she is easily over stimulated) but I knew she'd handle it for the sake of kites and bouncy houses. Hopefully, if our timing went smoothly, and we’re carefully aware of the input levels, we’d escape without an overstimulated meltdown. It was an added bonus our "shuttle" from the parking lot was a bona fide full sized yellow school bus! If there is anything cooler than a kite, it's a school bus, and this was her and her younger sister'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 with excitement.
After our bus adventure (no seat belts!?!), our next mission as decreed by our eldest was to fly her kite. Since we totally failed as parents by not bring her kite, we were forced to adjust and avail ourselves of one of the free paper kites she got to color before attempting to fly. Then it was on to the next thing. She was off - again hyper focused - walking through the crowds on a mission… in the opposite direction as her family. "This way!" my partner shouts after her. But I know she doesn't hear him even though she's still less than 6 feet away.
For a brief second my vision tunnels and I hear something like what she hears. We’re both Neurodivergent sensory beings with hypersensitive hearing after all – I mean, we are related...
Everything. All at once. At full volume. 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 Area outside of San Francisco - "hoa bu hao" "Vamanos" "taiko", the wind "whoooooosh" the vibrating kites "wawawawa."
I turn to give my partner the "it's sensory" look (Yes, you develop one of those as a parent with a kid with sensory integration challenges) and say "She can't hear you." He knows just what to do, he launches after her, sweeps her up gently in his arm (with the knowledge that she enjoys the sensation of being lifted), and reorients her in the direction we were headed. Physically and visually on track – she powers forward on her mission, now in the same direction as her family.
To better understand what is happening for a sound sensitive child, shift to a sensory perspective. Take a second to put on your sensory colored glasses and experience the world through your raw senses. If you're in a place with a lot of different sounds and noises or particular sounds and noises you know your loved one is sensitive to, keep in mind if they're not listening to you, it's not because they're being obstinate.
Literally, they can't hear you. Their sensory system is busy processing and responding to the particular sounds or all the sounds at once that their unique system is experiencing and processing. Their experience may be starkly different from your own experience of the soundscape around you because their sensory system is wired differently from yours.
Request their attention while communicating in a non-auditory way – Their hearing channel is full. Having pre-negotiated consent, or knowing your loved one is comfortable with the following, you might try: sign language, body language, eye contact if available, or gentle physical touch.
Gently guide them out of their sensory induced state by changing the environmental input:
-You might try physically changing their orientation in the environment: lifting, pointing, or turning, etc.
-Offering a pair of ear plugs or headphones (as age appropriate and safe to do so).
-Finding a quiet or less stimulating place to check in.