Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sound Sensitivity in Autism

Last week with the Fourth of July holiday approaching, various people asked me if fireworks bother Alex. Because so many people with autism have sound sensitivities, this was a very reasonable question. In fact, many children and adults with autism find certain noises quite disturbing and must cover their ears or wear noise-cancelling headphones in situations where loud noises are present. Fortunately, fireworks and other annoying sounds do not upset Alex, and I believe that a home therapy program we did with him when he was about five years old greatly helped address his sound sensitivity. As I listened to the teenage boys who live behind us setting off all kinds of fireworks last week, including throwing M-80 firecrackers in garbage cans that made our neighborhood sound like a war zone, I was thankful that Alex isn’t bothered by loud noises any more.

When Alex was little, his sensitivity to sound was one of our first clues that he had autism. As a baby, he would pick up his head when our relatively quiet furnace would come on, and he seemed to recognize the sound of our cars when one of us pulled into the driveway, showing joy that Mommy or Daddy had come home even before we walked in the door. In contrast, the sounds of the vacuum cleaner and hair dryer terrified him, sending him running away and crying. I remember once when he was a toddler that as he and I sat in the car waiting for Ed to scrape ice off the windshield, he was nearly hysterical, apparently upset by the scraping noise.

When I mentioned this sound sensitivity to his pediatrician, who was certain that Alex didn’t have autism and that I was just an overly concerned mother, he suggested that we take him to an audiologist to have musician’s earphones specially made for him to cancel out background noise. Knowing that he would outgrow these custom-made earphones quickly, spending hundreds of dollars on having them made struck me as a waste of money. Instead, I began looking into ways to treat his sound sensitivity, not just ways to block noise, realizing that he would often encounter surprising sounds and may not be prepared with earplugs, earphones, or headphones at all times.

My research led me to reading about auditory integration therapy, or AIT, developed by French ear, nose, and throat doctor Guy Berard in the 1950’s to address hearing sensitivities and imbalanced perception of sounds in the ears. AIT programs typically require twenty sessions of listening to specially modulated instrumental music with a variety of sound frequencies. These twenty sessions typically last thirty minutes each over ten days with two sessions per day that are at least three hours apart. Generally AIT takes place over two weeks––five weekdays followed by a weekend off and resumed the following five weekdays. In addition, AIT requires that the client wear headphones for the thirty-minute sessions and basically do nothing except listen to the music.

After reading that some children with autism respond very well to AIT, I considered whether this therapy might benefit Alex. However, I had some doubts as to whether this treatment had any merit because its methods seemed somewhat suspicious to me. Moreover, the cost of the treatment––typically $1000-$2000––was quite expensive. If AIT worked, it certainly would have been worth the money, but I was still skeptical. Another concern I had was that Alex’s sensitivity to touch was even greater than his sensitivity to sound, and I could not imagine that he would be able to wear headphones for the ten total hours he would be required to wear them for the AIT sessions.

Consequently, I began seeking alternatives and found the EASe CD, which was recommended by another autism mom. EASe, which stands for electronic auditory stimulation effect, was created in 1995 to help address sensory processing issues in children with autism and others with sensory difficulties. Essentially, the program works very similarly to AIT in that the person listens to instrumental music modulated with various sound frequencies for thirty-minute sessions twice a day for ten days. Unlike AIT, however, the creators of EASe seemed to understand that some children would not be able to use headphones and suggested that they could listen to the CD on a stereo with good speakers instead. In addition, the cost of this in-home program, which offered great convenience, was only about $60 to purchase the EASe CD that could be used over and over. After watching Alex cover his ears every time a loud appliance was turned on, I decided it was time to try the EASe CD and ordered a copy.

That summer, I faithfully followed the prescribed schedule of twenty half-hour sessions over ten days, playing the CD that sounded like pleasant but slightly strange elevator music over our stereo speakers with Alex, who was remarkably cooperative about listening. I can still picture him at age five, sitting in our living room, contentedly rocking in our La-Z Boy rocker recliner as he listened to the EASe CD. While I listened along with him, I still had my doubts as to the effectiveness of this therapy, but we soon noticed that he stopped covering his ears when he heard loud noises, and he no longer became upset by the sounds of noisy electrical devices. Over time, his sensitivity to sounds seemed to disappear completely, and I credit the EASe CD with that positive outcome.

Recently, I checked online to see if EASe was still making CDs and discovered that they have expanded their line to several different music CDs from the original one we first purchased in the 1990’s, and they also have also developed games to address sound sensitivity. Moreover, they offer a free download of their EASe music CD, which seems like a great way for parents to try the program and see if their children might benefit. In addition, their website clearly explains how the program works, answers many questions parents might have, and offers testimonials of customers who have benefited from the program. [To check out the EASe website, please click here.]

Even eighteen years later, we still see the benefits of the EASe CD in that Alex handles noise amazingly well, never covering his ears and never needing to wear headphones in noisy situations. We take Alex to concerts, sporting events, and even fireworks displays, and he enjoys himself thoroughly, never bothered by the loud noises that once upset him greatly. With the various issues autism presents that makes Alex’s life difficult, we are thankful that we found a therapy that allowed God to heal him so that he could enjoy typical family outings without being bothered by sounds. Now, that is something definitely worth celebrating with fireworks!

“But Moses replied, ‘No, it’s not the shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.’” Exodus 32:18

No comments: