Hyper-Sensitive To Sound

by Carrie
(San Jose, California)

Hi. I just came across your site tonight and am overwhelmed with the amount of information and with the confirmation that my daughter is not alone out there, nor am I as a parent. Article after article kept my head nodding "Yep, that's my Vanessa!" My daughter, Vanessa, is almost 21 months and has been a very challenging child. Here's a brief overview... From day 1, she was mad and angry at the world. She would cry and scream forever. Once she hit the solid-food period, she would only eat a small handful of items. She could not, and still cannot, be left with a sitter and to prove that, I have stretch marks on my arm from carrying her for hours.


When she was about 15 months old, I fought with my state's Early Start program to have an evaluation for her. My first few phone calls ended with a laugh in my face (literally, the lady laughed that I spent my time to call over "nothing") with an "Oh honey, don't worry about her. She is just one year old - give her time." But I knew different! I kept calling and finally got an evaluation. They agreed that there were some delays/issues and now we are now in speech therapy and OT weekly.

Over the last few weeks, Vanessa has started to react to sounds in a way she never use to before. She will now FREAK out, covering her ears, shaking her head, with a look of pure panic and fear. These sounds are all ones she has heard before; the garbage truck, the dog walking in the house, the house heater, a whistle in the next room, etc. She has always startled easily, but not with this panic and fear. I usually hold her on my lap and hug her to get her to calm down, but even talking about "that sound" brings back the panic and fear, even hours later.

I am at a total loss of what to do about this. I have no idea how to help her except for trying to keep her calm in those situations. Do you have any ideas how I can help calm her fears. Additionally, she always hears the sounds before I do, so is already in a panic when I finally realize what she hears. Any advice you have would be wonderful.

Thank you,
Carrie

The SPD Help Line Answers...


Carrie,

You are already on the right path, by holding her on your lap, hugging her (which provides deep pressure, a calming influence) and keeping yourself calm in the process. This is part of SPD and sounds can truly feel 100 times louder to her, than normal. No wonder she is frightened!

Vanessa is 21 months old, and in OT and Speech, which is wonderful. But I have to ask you a couple questions. How long is each session, and how frequent? And most importantly, is the OT working with you, explaining what's happening with your daughter and making suggestions for how you can help her at home?

I am assuming from your letter, this is a school based service. Another question you might want to ask the OT: Is s/he trained in Sensory Integrative OT, or even SIPT (Sensory Integration and Praxis Test) certified?

Sometimes school based and even private practice OT's are not, and this can make a huge difference in their understanding of SPD. To be trained in SPD a therapist must elect to take extra courses. They must also take courses to be trained to give the most comprehensive SPD test used currently. There are a couple new tests on the market now, and possibly the OT used one of them. Your daughter, at under two years old would not be old enough for the test, but a therapist certified to give this test has gained considerable knowledge of SPD, diagnostics and treatment.

Take heart, with your help and the OT, this will get better! You need to be taught by the OT how to administer either the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol, or the Burpee Buzzing and Brushing Method. Your OT should be experienced on one or both of these methods. The Burpee method is more intensive and quite possibly brings about changes quicker. This is important to provide all over skin stimulation to send massive amounts of signals to her brain and begin the neurological changes she needs. In the same way we exercise muscles to make them stronger, we exercise the brain by sending repeated signals casing the brain to start processing these signals more efficiently. In a nut shell, the brain is telling the body how loud sounds are, and the brain is not sending the right signal. But it can, does and will improve, sometimes rather quickly, within weeks or months, depending on how often and consistently she is brushed (and/or buzzed with a deep muscle massager) at home. Best thing to get started therapeutically on this Auditory Over Sensitivity.

In the meantime, there are accommodations you can provide for her at home, that are safe. Giving her a pair of those small spongy ear plugs, or ear buds, or head phones to allow her to feel she has some level of control over the sounds. At home, in the car, when you are out, if she knows she can block, or muffle these excruciating sounds, the fear may begin to subside, because she will quickly realize she can do something about it.

Look over your own home environment and discover things that make sound, that you can eliminate or reduce. You may not think it is loud, but anything, even a quiet dishwasher running can be painful to her. Remember that all input (which are signals) both positive and negative are sent to the brain, and it is cumulative throughout the day. The more obnoxious sounds and other sensory stressful experiences she has through her day, the less able she will be to tolerate sounds as the day progresses. The more positive, which are calming and soothing input she has during the course of the day, the better she will feel.

So, take a look around the house. What sounds can you get rid of? A table cloth will muffle the sounds of glassware and chinking silverware. Plastic silverware makes far less sounds. Are there three TV's on and a radio playing out back she can hear? Watch the volume on everything. Try to run the vacuum and other appliance when she is not home, or sleeping with doors shut.

And also think about the other senses, which are busy sending their signals too, that add to the sensory mix and mayhem, that make her greatest sensitivity - sounds - intolerable. Reduce the wattage of the lights in the house. 25 watt bulbs create a lovely soft golden glow. Unclutter the walls and bookshelves. Is there an aquarium, a lava lamp or some other sensory soothing device that would be calming to her? How about other sounds, like a sound machine where she can choose a sound that she loves? To replace the sensation of sounds she can't bear. Soft rain? A gurgling creek, lullabies? Is there any sound she does like? Use that to help calm, and soothe. Add tactile soothers, like a very soft teddy or plush animal to cuddle when she is feeling low, or as a preventive tool. A chenille blanket to curl up in. Is there a smell that she would love? A vanilla candle, or one that smells like cookies baking. We can calm our kids with certain smells too. Increase all the positive, calming soothing input to help combat the negative. Think: Sensory Comfort in every sense of the word.

These are a few ideas to help you think and see in a sensory way to provide immediate relief, then follow up with therapy that will make this better. And soon? It really will not bother her anymore!


Michelle Morris
Administrator, SPD International

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