Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Autism Acceptance Challenge 10: Turn it Down

You wonder why it’s so hard to have a conversation with me. I have no idea what you are saying. Way before the trouble with dual meanings and taking things literally and the time it takes to process spoken language and the time it takes to formulate a response that will make sense to you, the first barrier is the noise. I asked you to slow down, and you tried to slow down, and you maybe did a pretty good job of it—not doing that thing people do to Deaf and Autistic people and people with intellectual disabilities and speakers of foreign languages, that thing where you lean in and double down on eye contact and enunciate as though lives depended on it— but actually slowing the pace of your conversation. Thank you for that. But what about the noise?

More than one person speaking at once or a TV on in the background or that terrible sound coming out of the tiny speakers on your phone or iPad can prevent an autistic person from hearing what you are trying to say. Too many sounds at once can lead to a meltdown. My brain is not sorting these things the way non-autistic brains do. I cannot efficiently weed out what you might think of as background noise. Each piece of information is as valid and important as the next.

What would help? Turn it down. While you’re at it, please turn down the lights. Textures, tastes, and smells also need to be dialed back for many of us to function well.

Squawkers in a calm, quiet place. 
The last time you saw someone having a meltdown, was it in a calm, quiet environment? Did you or anyone think to take the person immediately to such a place (preferably before their tolerance level was exceeded)?

Acceptance is a quiet room (dimly lit) where people talk slowly and make sure everyone has a turn communicate in whatever way works best.

To complete this challenge, pay attention to the environments you live in, work in, move through.  In the comments, discuss how you can make these places more autism friendly. Whether you are autistic or non-autistic, share your story about turning down sensory input. 


  1. I'm happy to read this, reminds me of my granddaughter who easily has sensory overloads. When I invite my neurodiverse (am I using that word correctly?) to join me in a restaurant, I suppose I should try to suggest quiet environments (that's difficult.) Do you have favorite local restaurants?

  2. Good to see you here, Nancy! Thanks for your comment. Since you ask, I would use the word "neurodivergent" where you use "neurodiverse." An individual doesn't have diversity, that's more of a descriptor of the fact that there are different types of neurology, so I wouldn't apply it to a singular person. Or "autistic" if that's the case. Of course we are not the only ones who are neurodivergent. Both terms include all people who are outside the norm or majority.

    I can sometimes actually enjoy a noisy place for a short time, but in that purposefully disorienting way some people enjoy a couple of drinks. For actual conversation to happen, a quieter place is a necessity. There are a few around here, but as you said, not always easy to find. Squawk.

  3. I haven't found many ways to make my world more sensory friendly. The only thing I can do is go to my bedroom and turn on a fan or if out, turn on my earphones as loud as I can - which can be overloading in itself, sometimes. I ask my family to limit sound to one source at a time. In my apartment I still hear the neighbor's baby crying, the neighbor yelling at the baby to be quiet, a leaf blower, lawn mower, cars pulling up with music blasting, horns, the smell of what's cooking or what's been burnt in everyone's apartment, cigarettes. When I'm out there's perfumes clashing and buzzers and beeps, and even more kids yelling and crying and people talking loudly. It all seems inescapable to me. -Jennifer V

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I also use a fan for noise control. I have tried white noise machines, but they don't agree with me. All these noises and other sensory input are a huge energy drain.

    2. my dear friend uses rain sounds on her headphones. I have tried it but i dont like the ear peices.

  4. and this is one I agree with but I find fans to be among the worst of noises.

  5. Powerful and well written. May I link this to a post I'm writing on communication?

  6. I had found that my wife was having a lot of trouble hanging out with my son and I when we were all in the living room some evenings. After she discussed it with me, and after watching several videos on just how terrible some things that don't phase me can be for her sensory-wise, I limited the sources of noise that were going on at the same time. I encouraged my son to use headphones if he wanted to watch something other than what was currently on, and if we both were playing video games together we would just use the audio from one television. Taking the number of sources of sound from several to one has made things much easier for my wife and has enabled her to enjoy her time with us more and to participate in family activities easier. I encourage everyone with an autistic spouse or loved one to check and see if anything around the house (yourself included) is causing any sensory issues, and work together to find a solution.



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