I am not sure about your home on thanksgiving, but my home is rather loud with talking, laughter, and children running around; this is the case for most family gatherings in my Italian family. If your holidays are loud ones too, how does the high noise level make you feel? Does it feel overwhelming, where you notice your anxiety or stress level going up? Or maybe you are the one who is speaking loudly without even realizing it. Within a country full of diversity, maybe your family or yourself is not big on thanksgiving or holidays, and maybe you work or study for school, or have children who do homework? Have you noticed if sound or no sound helps your productivity, or your child’s focus? If any of these examples or questions resonate or intrigue you, let me help you explore your auditory sensory system more.
Our auditory (hearing) sensory system informs our body of different sounds through our ears. Typically, this sense has high discrimination; it can differentiate between people’s voices, help determine the distance of sounds, and assist in spatial awareness. Sometimes this system can be naturally over-responsive (i.e. think feeling angry or covering your ears when dishes clank) or under-responsive (i.e. your child does not respond when their name is called) to sound. Our hearing never really turns off because evolution used it to keep us safe. Hearing is necessary for learning language and being understood. Sounds often are the quickest to upset us and bring us joy think of a baby’s giggle or music we love! Our sense of hearing is powerful.
With that in mind, we want to help you explore and support your auditory sensory preferences and possible sensitivities!
One way to identify some sensory preferences you have, or your child has, in relation to your sense of hearing is by thinking about the following questions:
Do you like loud or soft sounds?
Do you like sound or no sound?
What types of music do you like?
What types of music do you not like?
Do you like to have sound when doing work or homework?
Do you like sound or silence when sleeping?
Maybe thinking about those questions or attempting to imagine what it would be like does not work for you; maybe you are someone who needs to ACT to know. Another way to explore sensory preferences for yourself or your child is to engage in the following experiences that target your auditory system. As you do them, notice how you or your child respond to them.
Play freeze dance with your children! Have a dance party and once the music stops, freeze! Observe how quick they are to freeze.
Listen to different styles of music with your children or yourself! Notice which ones are preferred.
Play listening games like Simon Says or Red Light/Green Light
Play a game of Guess that Sound!
Have noise (music, fan, TV, etc.) when trying to sleep or study, see how it goes.
Identify sounds you can hear that others can’t!
Now that you have explored your sense of hearing and maybe even identified some preferences you or your child has. It is important to recognize if your responses are neutral or are indicative of a sensitivity to sound. One way to identify if you have an over, under, or neutral responsivity to auditory experiences is by exploring this handout.
If at this point you are noticing that you or your child may have a sensitivity to sound, there is no need to worry. There are professionals who are trained to assess, identify, and support sensory sensitivities and sensory processing disorders. Seeking out a professional for more information, assessment, and support is encouraged. In the meantime, we have listed some activities and guidelines to support both over and under responsivity to auditory experiences!
Supportive activities for an over response to auditory experiences:
Purchase earplugs or noise-canceling headphones for yourself or your child.
Explore what kind of music calms you
Intentionally choose study areas or play areas in quieter parts of the home
Speak at a lower volume when conversing with your child, ask others to speak at a lower volume when conversing with you. It is okay to ask for what you need!
Supportive activities for an under response to auditory experiences:
Encourage your child or self to learn and play an instrument
Purchase sound machines, fans, or music players to have in bedrooms and focus areas.
Speak clearly and slowly, or encourage self or child to ask others to speak clearly and slowly when conversing. It is okay to ask for what you need.
Use visual or tactile cues to gain your child's attention
Break-up complicated directions into smaller parts
Encourage humming softly when attempting to focus
Learn some sign language to communicate with family and friends
For more information on the auditory sensory system and Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit any of the links below.
by Celia Courser & Cary M Hamilton