In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
-Lyrics from “Sounds of Silence”, by Simon and Garfunkel
As I sit and write this, I have to laugh; I wanted to write a short piece about me and Mike hiding up in my bedroom watching TV. My bedroom is the furthest physical place in this house from the basement, where Nick is pounding his drums as if he were signalling a distant island. I have no doubt that that distant island (Staten or Catalina) can hear the jarring staccato of his beat.
We could go to the attic; that would be physically farther, but there’s no TV up there (note to self….)
Anyway, I am reminded about how, for may years Mike would stick his fingers in his ears when he couldn’t stand a loud noise, be it loud music or loud people, or just about a lot of situations. When he was very small, he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder among other things. That meant that he had difficulty processing a lot of stimuli. We brought him to OT/PT for brushing, joint compression, auditory training, etc. We came to understand why he always pushed his shirtsleeves up and why he didn’t like labels on his shirts. We bought him high quality Sennheiser headphones to listen to specialized CDs (for those who don’t know, Sennheiser was audio royalty long before Dr. Dre‘s Beats).
Many kids on the Spectrum have difficulty with loud noise; Mike is no different. He has earplugs packed away in a pocket of his backpack in case a school assembly gets too loud for him; I would rather he be mildly muffled and still be able to participate than stick his fingers in his ears and have an escalation. We are lucky that Mike can easily verbalize when he needs his earplugs, or failing that, can request a break from a loud session. These days, more often than not, Mike puts his fingers in his ears to escape J-Lo or Lady Gaga playing on the radio, favoring good ol’ rock ‘n roll instead.
Many children on the Spectrum are characterized as ‘moving to the beat of their own drummer’. This may be so: many Autistics do self-stimulate, and there is some indication that there is a soundtrack of sorts that accompanies this behavior; sometimes noticeable as a low humming or similar behavior. I’ve seen this in Mike, and usually ask him what he’s thinking about. I purposely do this to 1. engage him in conversation and 2. keep in grounded in the here and now, rather than ruminate on his own.
If you happen to see a child with his fingers in his ears, or withdrawing from a loud or crowded area, or see a child ‘melting down’ it may not be a tantrum or a behavior, it might be Sensory Integration Disorder, and he or she is doing the best they can to adapt and handle the situation.
If you happen to drop by my house and hear those drums, I’ll be in the attic setting up the TV.