Scarlett has always been somewhat of an enigma when it has come to working with her. I can appreciate that all children are unique but in terms of the normal development patterns of a VI child she follows quite an unusual route. Of course we are still working through the ‘is it autism’ debate and we are still waiting to see the right doctors to investigate this further.
The area is very vast and the task of analyzing why our child behaves in a certain way can seem a mammoth one. In this blog I am going to begin to scrape the surface of the effects of sound on Scarlett.
Scarlett’s response to certain sounds in the environment can have a massive effect on her ability to function properly. In particular she demonstrates clear signs of going into ‘sensory overload’ and can adopt the fetal position and cover her ears when it all becomes far too much. This can take the enjoyment out of many activities for Scarlett and she can become distressed. I can imagine many parent’s can identify, especially with the summer holidays about to commence the troubles that sound can cause.
I have been very lucky recently to get to chat with a sound specialist, who is herself visually impaired and it gave me great insight and greater understanding of the underlying issues that are causing Scarlett’s distress in relation to sound.
Now all of this information is centered around assumptions that have been made based on the specialists own experiences as a VI child and a sound guru.
Firstly, Scarlett doesn’t seem particularly adverse to volume, in fact when it’s an enjoyable sound it is ‘the louder the better‘. I used our recent visit to the Mr Tumble show to allow the specialist a real-life situation to ‘un-pick’. Scarlett very much enjoyed the music and the songs and was up laughing and dancing, but as soon as the show began, particularly the segments containing speech Scarlett withdrew and adopted the same ‘fetal and ears covered’ position that I know all so well. In this situation it seems that not only the speech is a problem but also the frequency- so team speech, which can be quite difficult for Scarlett to process, plus a particular frequency amplified and then put into a theater space and teamed with acoustics- its an audio nightmare! I have noticed that Scarlett is much happier listening to microphone voices when outside and this could be down to the effect the acoustics have on the sound. This is what could be described as a ‘stress environment’.
So how as parents can we help our children manage these audio nightmares?
1. Give your child an option for control: When Scarlett was young, this meant we kept her favourite musical toy close by so that she can activate the sounds. And now as she is older, headphones and her favourite music. Ideally, this is a short term pain killer for a long term problem and gives instant relief to a sound problem that we would hope as parent’s we could further understand and give them a much effective treatment to the main cause.
2. Give your child the language of sound: I at first was slightly apprehensive about how well this method could work. Scarlett has language and communication problems and despite providing her with a running commentary on her life, I was dubious about how well this could work. It is basically giving your child an option to understand where the sound is coming from, creating a fuller picture of what is activating your sense of sound in turn gives them greater understanding and increases the chance of effective processing. Basically it is the fear of the unknown, fear is a response that travels down a pathway in your brain. If we can successfully make the unknown know then that pathway in your brain will cease to be used… the less it is used the less fear you have. So it is imperative that you always provide the language of the sound… a verbal description and a tactile understanding.
I have put the method of using the language of sound into practice with one of Sonny’s toys. Scarlett did not enjoy the sound of the electric digger travelling up and down the carpet, and my normal response would be too tell Sonny to wait till Scarlett had left for school until her used it. This day I explained it was Sonny’s toy, it was a digger, it moved using a button up and down the carpet and allowed Scarlett to feel the toy. Now I know this may seem a bit ‘oh yeah right’ but it worked, and it worked instantly. Literally Scarlett stopped covering her ears and the digger commenced on whatever mission to deliver the plastic cow to the train track….. I kid you not!
I have much more on this area to discuss, but I hope to have already have left you with some food for thought. I find this area particularly fascinating and it would be wonderful to hear from some parent’s who have some thoughts on this area.
Have you tried using the language of sound with you child? Have you found this helps?