Post by A.S.I. (Ability Sensory Integration)

When I walk along the streets of my city, I hear things my friends often don’t (things like the gum chewing and popping in the above video).  I have amazing hearing for noises at gum-chewing frequency.  I can also hear music from other people’s mp3 players and the distant end of their cell phone conversations.  The other morning I was on the train and I could hear a little boy collecting coins on his portable game console.  Everyone else appeared to be having conversations without issue, but I was distracted from mine.

Distracted and frustrated.  It’s just a person chewing gum or playing a video game — no one is intentionally trying to bother me.  So, why does it bother me?

Because, I want to hear my friend — I am having a conversation after all.  I want to walk, enjoy the weather, be calm and talk.  I want to read a book in a public space without hearing the music coming from someone else’s headphones.  I want my senses to filter out superfluous noises, rather than become overloaded.

Sometimes and for some people, this kind of sensory overload can be so acute as to necessitate a diagnosis, which can help dictate treatment:  Sensory integration dysfunction (SI).  The dysfunction part comes from being less well able to process and filter certain types of sensory information (sights, sounds, tastes, etc).  For me, when it comes to sound, I find it very difficult to filter.

SI  is a neurological disorder, just like ADHD and Autism-spectrum disorders — but with its own type of  treatment plan.  Often, the treatment is individually based occupational therapy, where a person (typically a child) is exposed to sensory inputs that interact with all the senses.  The therapist makes sure the environment feels safe to the youth and monitors stress levels throughout sessions.  The idea is that in time, the bad associations that cling to different sensory inputs can be extinguished (or at least lessened).

I haven’t yet delved into the world of occupational therapy (I’ve stuck mainly with talk therapy), so I only have my coping mechanisms to rely on.  Headphones, earplugs, and occasionally mindful breathing.  I took a standardized test recently and was terrified that I had to take my test in a room full of other people (since college, I have received accommodations that include a room to myself for tests, but it is almost impossible to receive accommodations for standardized tests). Luckily for me, the testing center had the kind of headphones that people wear at shooting ranges at each work station.  I had brought ear plugs, but with those alone I could still hear other people typing away.  The earphones plus ear plugs changed the frequency of the noises just enough for me that I was able to focus and take my test.

The trouble with ears is that sometimes ears choose not to filter.  I appreciate that my ears keep me from walking out into a busy street when someone beeps their car horn, and it sure is frustrating when gum chewing distract me from the conversation I’m having during my lunchtime walk with a pal.  I am a “sensational” adult, who would like to be a little bit less sensational at times.

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