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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What Sound Feels Like

Yesterday, when talking about the effects of sound, I wanted to go into more detail on what it feels like. However, as often happens while I write, what I want to write sometimes just doesn't fit into the flow of what I'm writing. Today I will cover it.

So what does sound feel like? The following description is how I feel but if you are new to my blog I want to make one point clear; if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. My sensations and feelings are mine and they might or might not be shared by another person on the spectrum and I do know some people on the spectrum love loud noises. With all that being so please remember that moving forward.

I have two issues with sound. Obviously the first one is loud noises. However, the second one is something you might not realize, or think of, and that is an item, or other thing in this world, that could produce a loud noise. Those things are almost worse than a loud noise, but I will cover this when I get there.

To begin, let me describe sounds that are currently sounding. (is that a proper sentence? I wonder if it sounds right? Sorry, couldn't help myself with the sound joke) The first thing I notice isn't that I can hear the noise, but rather that I can feel the noise. Typically this is felt in the legs and perhaps this is simply the bass of the noise. Regardless of what it is this is usually the type of noise that gives me issues. I've said this before, but it isn't necessarily the volume of the noise, but rather the frequency and when I can feel the sound the issues begin.

The first thing that will happen in my body is an immediate increase in my heart rate. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a shot of adrenaline because there is fear. The fear, I know, is irrational, but I can't turn my brain's messages off. I can't simply, "get over it" or as I was told as a child, "don't worry about it!" when an electrical drill went off. In any event, it isn't just that the heart rate goes up, but there is a physical pain associated with this. As a child I could not translate my emotions into words people around me could understand. I mean, how could I describe the feeling of wanting to run as fast away from the noise as possible? Adults took it as a child being afraid, but it's more than that as I feel, as loud noises sound, that it is a matter of survival to get away from the noise.

As the heart rate increases my arms start to feel a sharp tingling sensation. If the tempo of the noise increases, say, like a motor increasing it's RPM's, so to does the speed of all the tingles and other feelings. As this increases so to does the messages from my brain, "run... run... RUN!!!" Just writing about the sound has increased my pules a little just from memories of sounds. That, but maybe it is the jackhammer outside my window right now (talk about irony! Is that irony?")

Again, there is no off switch and I am not wanting to feel this to annoy those around me. Perhaps as a child this was thought of, but truly it is an overwhelming of my system.

Ear protection helps greatly and I won't be at a race track without ear protection. I'm not sure why this helps, however, because sound never truly hurts my ears. Maybe it produces a sense of security, but the feeling of sound in my legs and chest is far worse than the sound in my ears (this is where "if you've met one person with autism..." applies because the next person's issues may fully be in the ear.)

Also, in the presence of loud sound, I feel as if I need to do something or if something really awful is about to happen. Besides the physical sensations the anxiety of something bad is about to happen can't be turned off. I'm not sure, but maybe I learned at a young age that nothing good comes from loud noises. Does it? Thunder? Bad. A crashing sound in another room? Bad. Fireworks? Some may say good, but anything that explodes can be hazardous to one's health. Tornado sirens? Those are the worst as NOTHING good comes from them.

As the sound starts to subside my emotions and physical sensations are still going wild. It isn't an instant calm and it may take a few minutes. If the sound is the right frequency I will continue to hear the noise and if I hear a tornado siren I will hear the noise in my head for hours after. Slowly though the sharp tingles in my arms and legs will ebb and my heart rate will come back to normal and the pain will start to vanish.

Because of the adverse effects of noise I am always on the look out for it and that is why I am shaky around items that could produce loud noises. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, walking through the pits towards the trailer was difficult because of all the cars parked in the pits. I knew that any of those cars could start up at any point in time. For those of us on the spectrum we are highly defensive and observant in our surroundings. We have to be because we do try and avoid those moments of uncomfortableness. However, we can take this is a level that creates just as much discomfort as the sound itself.

The anticipation of the sound is almost as bad as the sound itself. The pulse increases to a point of pain, the legs get the sharp needle like tingles, and the arms become like 10 ton weights. The thoughts of, "run run run..." come back and my brain is telling me that the area is unsafe. And this is the thing, loud noises are seen as unsafe and when I was always told, "don't worry about it" I saw it as the same thing as if I were playing on top of a 20 story building without walls, ropes, or nets. Falling off would be bad, but I saw, and sometimes still do, see loud noises just as dangerous as playing atop a building.

Most of all, between both types of sound, it is tiring. The feeling afterwards is of pure exhaustion. I am much better now than I used to be and maybe that is because, from flagging all these years, my body as slowly learned that not everything that is loud is bad. As a child I would scream and do everything I could to avoid noises. At sporting events when they would use concussion fireworks at the start of the event I would be in the concourse or sometimes out of the arena because it just hurt to bad. What did my parents think? I'm not sure, but it wasn't that the noise was simply uncomfortable but rather it truly hurt. And concussion fireworks are a double problem as there is an anticipation that is unmatched followed up by a noise that can be felt throughout the entire body.

To cap off talking about the anticipation of sound, have you ever watched a movie that made you jump? In some movies it is somewhat obvious as to when the thing, monster, alien, or scary guy in a mask is going to jump out of somewhere with loud noises and screams coming from the screen when this happens. The anticipation I get when watching a movie like that is somewhat like the same anticipation feelings I get when around something that could make a loud noise. However, it is only a fraction of what I feel. So if you can think back to a movie experience you've had, multiply the feeling in your chest and the slight sense of danger by about 1,000 and you will have a good idea of what I endure around things that could become loud.

So, I hope I've done a decent job explaining noises. It's something I wish, as a child, I could have described because it wasn't my parents fault, and it wasn't that I simply couldn't, "get over it" but rather it truly is a painful experience. Remember though each child/adult on the spectrum is different and the feelings and emotions could be different than mine, but if there is a loud noise and the behavior changes, well, I hope my words can help you associate with what it feels like on the outside.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, have you ever seen a child (say, age 3?) play with a balloon and you were just waiting for it to pop, because children like to hug balloons for some reason?
    That's the worst... And then you try to gently take the balloon out of the child's hands (not stealing, but gently making notions you want to hold it, so the child will hand it over to you if you get what I mean) and then a parent says 'oh just let him/her play with it. Who cares if it pops, it's just a balloon.'
    Have you ever had that situation? It makes me cringe and people think I'm just mean wanting to have the child stop hugging the balloon. They don't understand it's pure torture to me.

    And what about disco's? I can't be in one for more than half an hour without ending up feeling dizzy and get stomachaches afterwards (not even talking about how I feel while in the disco itself).

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