Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hearing aid

Bud's iPod is not just a device for entertainment, nor is it simply a trendy fashion accessory. It actually helps him hear better.

In recent months, as the weather got warmer and people in the neighborhood began letting their dogs stay outside for longer periods of time, Bud started to have extreme reactions to the sound of dogs barking. He'd be fully engaged in playing with his toys, then suddenly leap to his feet and bellow like a war protester:


I'd listen and would hear faintly, through the closed windows of our house, the sound of a dog barking a block away. Bud would run to the window and pull the shade, then cover his ears with his hands. At first, I thought he was overreacting and being overly sensitive, and I would try reasoning with him: "The doggie is in his yard. He can't come in here. You're okay. The doggie is just saying hello."

Then I read this post from Ballastexistenz and I began to understand the situation differently. Bud was not overreacting. The barking sound, though faint and distant to me, was drowning out everything else for Bud. It wasn't volume of the barking that was difficult for Bud; it was the effect that the barking had on him: shifting his attention, compelling him to focus fully on the barking, making it impossible for him to shift his attention back to any other more pleasant sound.

Now that Bud has adopted my iPod, he suddenly has a valuable new tool to use against dysregulating noises. He doesn't listen to it very loudly; it doesn't hinder his ability to converse with me. But it helps him regulate his focus and shift his attention away from noises that trouble him and toward ones that make him feel secure and balanced (currently Paul McCartney's live cd Back in the U.S.). He has gotten adept at knowing when to bring it with him on outings, and at differentiating between the situations in which he need only keep it handy vs. those which require him to venture forth with headset in place.

Bud and I haven't discussed this phenomenon, but I know he's been thinking about it too. Yesterday as I was getting ready for work I heard barking, probably from our neighbor's dog Jenna, through our open windows. I braced myself for the battle cry, but instead I heard Bud talking softly to himself as he walked past me.

"Jenna, you stop barking me. Where is my iPod?"


gretchen said...

This is brilliant. It's a perfect, socially acceptable, way for Bud to regulate.

I think other kids crying or being "redirected" has the same distracting effect on Henry that the barking dogs have on Bud. Thanks for the insight!

Kristina Chew said...

We haven't replaced the iPod mini Charlie had and this is making think the Shuffle would not be a bad idea.

I also think Charlie also does a similar kind of "screening" in seeing--he has always focused on some tiny detail in his visual field (which I think is pretty broad---he is slightly far-sighted) and zoned out "the essentials."

Jannalou said...

That's basically why I have music going on my computer all day at work. I can't use earphones because I have to answer the phone a lot, and I pause the music when I'm on the phone, but basically I have music playing constantly so that I have something to keep me calm. Doesn't always work, but it's pretty good at keeping out the "scary noises" most of the time.

("Scary noises" = traffic, people talking, anything that distracts me from what I'm trying to focus on. Distraction makes me stressed, which makes me decidedly "uncalm".)

SquareGirl said...

What an amazing and valuable observation about the ipod! I've always believed in the therapeautic value of music, but the idea of an ipod helping with regulation is an enlightening and valuable piece of information that I'm going to be sharing with some of the parents I work with!

Thank you!

Aspie Dad said...

I have been learning so much about myself since Aspie Boy and I were "identified."

I have always (for fairly large values of 'always') done something along these lines. I have variously interpreted this as needing a certain level of input to be have enough stimulus to begin the selective filtering process that leads to concentration. But as I grew older, it was apparent that waqs not the case. Then you bring up this.

But stray noises like a dog barking down the block... Whew, I have had too many instances of 'what are you talking about? I can barely hear that!' in my life. And to me, it feels like the noise is inside my head blocking out everything else.

I always thought it was just me. I'll say it again.

Wow. I learned something today.

kyra said...

wow! i agree with gretchen! that IS brilliant. fluffy has never tried the ipod. maybe we'll give it a go!

r.b. said...

Wow, I spoke today with a mother who was talking about her son's hearing sensitivities...I think I'll call her back!

Thanks for the info...

Alexander's Daddy said...

I have the same problem with barking dogs, no matter how far off they are. It started in childhood. I couldn't sleep at night because a neighbors dog about a half mile down the road was barking and it kept me up. To this day I can't stand barking dogs. I started to use a fan in the room to create some "white" noise which helped me tremendously. Ear plugs don't work very well for me because when I'm wearing them, I can hear and feel my heartbeat.

It's not the dogs that make me angry, its the thought that there are dog owners that don't seem to care that make me angry. When I was a child, I didn't connect dogs to owners and thus was more upset with the dogs.

Kassiane said...

I used to do this with my MP3 player before it got stolen. I have another one somewhere but can't seem to get music onto it...I'd use it, earbud headphones, and rifle range headphones to drown things out, and take off the rifle ranges and unplug an ear if i needed to hear.

iPod: the autistic invention.

Mat said...

My life got so much easier when I started wearing headphones all the time. Especially considering that I spent most of my adolescence with my fingers stuck in my ears.

iPod: the autistic invention.

Ab. So. Lutely.

Shawn said...

Count me in as the third dad who had problems with the noise of barking dogs (and lots of other noises) since I was a child. I never understood it until the first of my sons was diagnosed with AS.

I never had a iPod (till last year) but I always used music as a way to control the auditory environment.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered therapeutic listening? My daughter just started a program in her pre-school; she wears headphones once a day (I think I'll be buying the program so we can use them at home, too - they say you get optimal results from wearing them at least twice a day for 30 minutes). Anyway, it's digitally reprogrammed music, pleasant though (I tried the headphones) and it's supposed to help with auditory sensitivities and other sensory issues. It was developed and admiinistered by OTs. Vital Links is the name of the vendor who puts this particular program out, I believe they have a website (I think there are a few out there). My daughter has been using the program in the classroom with good results, so far. I think it has the benefits of both blocking out distracting noises and re-organizing the vestibular/auditory system. Just thought I'd mention it, as I thought of it immediately after reading your post.

Zilari said...

I most certainly consider my iPod to be "adaptive technology". :) It's been one of the best purchases I've ever made.

Big Orange said...

this makes sense. Mine goodwife is always complaining that I've got headphones on (I usually listen to audio books) but I think I'm doing something like Bud and other kids: it helps me focus on ONE THING instead of 25 all at the same time. What a great piece of technology! Do the iPod people know about this?

Wendy said...

Very interesting!

My dog (oh just died last feels so weird to just write dog singular :( ) drives me crazy when I'm trying to sleep and she's giving herself a bath. It's ALL I can focus on. My husband doesn't even hear it. My solution: an air purifier in the room. It cleans the air and creates a wonderful white noise.

I'm surprised that so many people can listen to music while they perform tasks at work because I find it incredibly distracting when I'm trying to concentrate. But maybe that's just because I love music so much and would prefer to sing out loud. :)