It is widely known among ASD experts (or just people who know anything about autism beyond outdated stereotypes) that many individuals who have autism are notably sensitive to most forms of sensory input, particularly sound. In other words, people with an ASD (including Asperger Syndrome) tend to strongly dislike having to listen to a lot of noise at once, especially if it’s loud or sudden. For them it can lead to what I like to call “sensory overload”, which is when someone experiences intense anxiety and distress from the amount of noise and other sensory input they are forced to endure. This is a common source for a many tantrums and outbursts among younger individuals with autism, particularly when they’re out in public where sound volume can be high.
I have already discussed this topic and how it relates to me in my blog post, LOOOOUUUUUUUD NOISES!!! , so please go read that if you haven’t already.
There is, however, another aspect to my auditory sensitivity that I didn’t bring up in that article. It’s a little weird, hard to explain, and may only be relevant to me, as I can’t find any evidence that this issue exists in other people with autism or Asperger’s. The best way I can describe this phenomenon I can sometimes be emotionally sensitive to certain kinds of sounds, especially music. This was specifically prominent when I was a child and it’s not as much of a problem today, though it does persist to some extent.
What do I mean by emotionally sensitive to certain noises and music? Well firstly, we all react unhappily to some music, particularly when it’s intentionally meant to sound sad or depressing. Many of us can’t help but cry or get teary-eyed when listening to songs like “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Mad World” by Gary Jules, or “Hurt” by Johnny Cash (“Hurt” is definitely a tear-jerker for me). Secondly, all of us naturally feel somewhat anxious when having to listen to unpleasant noises such as jack hammers, kids screaming, people chewing with their mouths open (talk to my sister about that one), chairs being dragged on the floor, and buzzing flies.
Of course, just like countless other things I’ve discussed on this blog, this issue works a little bit different for me. What I mean by that is that, for one reason or another, I can’t help but be more susceptible to negative emotions when listening to certain music or hearing specific sounds. There are quite a few songs and noises that normally wouldn’t upset people at all, but for some reason can make me feel rather uncomfortable.
As a kid, it wasn’t very hard for me to cry or feel really sad when listening to a particular song or instrumental score that somehow rubbed me the wrong way. I think you can imagine how annoying this could be: getting all gloomy and teary-eyed out of nowhere because of some music that had no such effect on anyone else. The worst part about this is that the tears and gloominess would often persist long after I had listened to the song, making it even more difficult than it already was to socialize and have fun with others.
I can name a fair amount of songs and music scores that wouldn’t upset or even annoy most people but would usually get me to cry or just demand that it stop. In fact, right now I’d rather not name any specific songs or music that often caused me such unhappiness, because I’m worried that I’ll start thinking about it and maybe start crying again.
Well ok I guess I should give at least one example: I remember when I used to go on car trips with my family and listen to soundtracks from movies and Broadway musicals with them on the way. One soundtrack that we had must have listened to at least 50 times was that from the Beauty & the Beast Broadway musical. There a few songs from the soundtrack to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack that were technically sad, but not exactly the kind of music that would cause people to break out in tears. Whenever we played the soundtrack while traveling, I would insist that these songs be skipped otherwise I would start to cry or get all sad (either then or later in the day). I could tell that my parents didn’t like this and wanted to listen to the whole soundtrack, but they did it for me because they understood that I simply couldn’t handle the music. So, thanks for doing that for me guys! I greatly appreciate it! 😊
Another example I’ll post here so that you can get a good picture is a short hymn that my church would often play during Sunday sermons when I was a child. Well, at first it was in a key that I didn’t really mind at all, and I believe it better suited the message of the song (which was, I think, to simply say “praise the Lord” and all that jazz). Later on, for some reason, they changed the key of the hymn to something that sounded a lot more somber and depressing, at least to me. Keep in mind that the music was played on a church organ, which is already well-equipped to play somber music (because, you know, funerals). Thus, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and sometimes even teary-eyed whenever hearing it. Luckily, my parents stopped dragging me to Sunday sermons when I was like 13. Thanks a lot for that too, mom & dad!
The same general principle can be applied to various non-musical noises. There are more than a few kinds of sounds that have had the effect of making me feel somewhat anxious or miserable, especially as a kid. An example of a sound that has always gotten under my skin is an infant crying. The thing is that every time I hear it I try SO HARD to not let it bother me, to not get upset or stressed, and to remind myself that it’s a natural part of life and that we all have to put up with it. “You cried when you were a baby, weren’t you Tim?” I tell myself. “You shouldn’t let it bother you so much when it’s so natural and common.” Unfortunately, that only works for a short while until I’m just mentally screaming “Oh god, PLEASE, make it stop!” and I sort of feel like crying as well. It takes quite a bit of restraint and effort to not walk away, cover my ears, or ask whoever is supervising the child to try harder to make them stop. (Note: I do not wish to offend parents of infants in any way by saying this. I’m just saying that the sound really gets to me, that’s all)
Now don’t get me started on buzzing bees or flies, particularly in movies and television shows. The sounds of real buzzing bees and flies are bad enough, but somehow when its used in fictional media, they manage to make it even more grating and awful to hear. Seriously, whenever a bee or fly or similar insect appears on-screen as I’m watching something, I have to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the incoming “auditory onslaught”. If you want to understand what I mean, just watch this.
Luckily, as I’ve mentioned several times before, this issue has GREATLY improved for me and I’m nowhere near as bothered as much by certain music or sounds as I used to be. I still tend to avoid various kinds of music and sounds on occasion (it’s partially why I avoid church services aside from weddings and funerals), but overall I’m far better at tolerating audio that doesn’t exactly put a smile on my face. I’m mainly just glad that I could get this topic off my chest and that I’ve managed to clarify it to my friends and family who’ve probably been curious about it since I was little.
Here’s one last thing I’d like to share: if you ever play Little Black Raincloud from Winnie the Pooh near me, I reserve every right to physically destroy whatever it is that’s playing the song. I’m not kidding. Your computer, Android, iPod, or whatever will be DEAD in seconds if you try to play that song within my presence.