Autism and Auditory Hypersensitivity: Causes and Treatment

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A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that autism spectrum disorder prevalence has significantly increased to over 2% of all children in the United States, with an estimated 1 in 28 boys currently with an autism diagnosis.

Professionals working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may find that these children are overly sensitive to sounds. These professionals and parents are often concerned as to why children may have auditory hypersensitivities.

The journal Autism Research and Treatment recently published a peer reviewed article which discusses the neural mechanisms identified underlying hypersensitive hearing in people. I wrote this article with Dr. Jay R. Lucker of Howard University. Our article focuses on brain research to support the idea of the non-classical auditory pathways being involved in connecting the auditory system with the emotional system of the brain. We also discuss brain mechanisms believed to be involved in auditory hypersensitivity, and treatments for hypersensitive hearing.

This Wednesday, February 3rd at 8 pm Eastern, Dr. Jay R. Lucker will join me on The Listening Program Radio to discuss the topic of Autism and Auditory Hypersensitivity, the causes, treatment, and hope for those suffering from sound sensitivities.

Register here for this free program and to ask us a question we can answer live. You’ll receive an email with the call-in number and a web link to listen online 3 hours before the show.

Autism and Auditory Hypersensitivity: Hope for Relief

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Helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) achieve their greatest potential has been something close to my heart throughout my career. This interest has lead me in many directions including; research, developing scientifically optimized music for brain training, conference presentations, board positions in autism organizations, and writing.

One of my questions has been why do people with ASD so frequently demonstrate behaviors related to sensory over responsitivity (SOR), specifically auditory  hypersensitivity, also called hyperacousis and misophonia? This is a condition that touches not just the majority of individuals with autism, but many others including the so-called “neurotypical”. Sound hypersensitivity can be absolutely debilitating. It is heart-wrenching to see a child or adult suffer pain or perception of pain from everyday sounds.

In the quest to help, I’ve been so fortunate that Dr. Jay R. Lucker of the Department of Communication Sciences at Howard University and I share this interest. For years we have collaborated on research related to this phenomenon. Our first joint article on the topic “Auditory Hypersensitivity and Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Emotional Response” was published in Autism Science Digest in 2012. We then wrote an extensive follow-up to the Autism Science Digest article which is a deeper exploration into the neural mechanisms involved in auditory hypersensitivity which was just published in the peer reviewed journal Autism Research and Treatment.

Abstract

Professionals working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may find that these children are overly sensitive to sounds. These professionals are often concerned as to why children may have auditory hypersensitivities. This review article discusses the neural mechanisms identified underlying hypersensitive hearing in people. The authors focus on brain research to support the idea of the nonclassical auditory pathways being involved in connecting the auditory system with the emotional system of the brain. The authors also discuss brain mechanisms felt to be involved in auditory hypersensitivity. The authors conclude with a discussion of some treatments for hypersensitive hearing. These treatments include desensitization training and the use of listening therapies such as The Listening Program.

If you are a parent of a child with autism, caregiver, educator, or therapist who is touched by someone with autism, or you yourself are on the autism spectrum I do hope this latest research article provides some answers, and hope for relief from over sensitivity to sounds.

 

We’re Going Green!

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We’re Going Green! It seems I see this statement everywhere I go.  It has become ubiquitous in a world where we’ve come to realize the fragile balance of meeting the energy demands of a growing population, while attempting to preserve our natural resources. I believe in the importance of energy conservation, am aware of my carbon imprint, recycle, and teach my children to be mindful of energy use. However, I think there are instances where energy conservation is taken too far. More on this later.

On Tuesday evening I flew to Las Vegas to visit a friend and colleague. His name is Julian Treasure. Julian was speaking about sound at a conference attended by audiologists, auditory research scientists, and other interested professionals. The subject of his talk was sound, noise and listening in the modern world. A topic I spend a great deal of time on myself. We were at a lovely resort with a minimalist architectural design. Julian and I spent hours discussing our mutual interests, namely listening and sound. In fact, if you’d would like to hear a short portion of our conversation, you can listen to it here on audioboo.


A day spent discussing sound really sets your attention to it. Which is why I am writing this post about a trend that is an increasing concern of mine.

In the elegant restrooms of this lovely hotel are hand dryers. Not the industrial white dryers we are accustomed to seeing on the walls of gas station bathrooms, but sleek European dryers that greatly appeal to my sense of visual aesthetics. You’ve likely seen them. They look like something straight out of Star Trek. You stick your hands inside and whoosh they’re dry! I think this is great, with one exception. THEY ARE LOUD! How loud? Well… to find out I pulled out my iPhone, launched a decibel meter app and measured. The result? Over 90dB at ear level! That is too loud, especially given that safe sound levels are below 75 decibels.

This level of sound is at minimum annoying, and for some extremely painful. I cannot imagine subjecting my nearing three year old son to one of these. Thinking about the many people we serve with hyperacousis (overly sensitive hearing), I cannot imagine what the experience would be for them. You might say, just use the towels if you don’t like the noise. And that would be a great solution. But this hotel, like so many public places, have removed towels from restrooms. You have no option to these noise machines, other than drying your hands on your clothes or shaking them dry.

As you see in the photo, the justification for these hand dryers is the preservation of our natural resources. OK, I get that. But how much energy does it take to force hot air at such an intensity that my hands are dry in five seconds flat and it makes my ears ring? My ears are a precious natural resource!

I’m not alone in my concern. When I posted this picture on Facebook Tuesday evening it got quite a response.

Do you agree this is a problem? Please share your comments.

Annoying Sounds Spark Major Rage

A couple days ago I posted an article Ouch That Hurts about an auditory condition called misophonia in which annoying sounds can cause major rage. This morning The Today Show did a segment on this topic that you can view here.

Most of the research into the cause of this and related disorders appears to be focused on auditory mechanisms.  However, Advanced Brain Technologies Scientific Advisory Board Member and audiologist Dr. Jay Lucker of Howard University has been researching strong behavioral reactions to sound in children and suggests it is the emotional reactions must be dealt with. This was his response to a question we posed on the Healing at the Speed of Sound Facebook page.

“I am in the process of revising a manuscript for publication on loud and annoying sounds in children. Findings revealed that this is NOT an auditory based problem in the overwhelming number of children seen in this study. The major problem is our negative emotional reactions to loud and annoying sounds. We must deal with the emotional reactions more so than the auditory based issues for most of our children with sound tolerance problems.”

Ouch! Do You Ever Find Sounds Annoying or Uncomfortable? What Are They? Post your response here.

Ouch That Hurts!

Ever annoyed by sounds?

Each of us have sounds we like or dislike, just as we prefer certain foods over others. But some people experience pain with certain sounds, something called hyperacusis. Others dislike some sounds, a condition called misophonia, while others experience phonophobia, a fear of sounds.

These conditions can be difficult to diagnose and hard to treat, although some have found relief with The Listening Program. Interestingly each of these auditory perceptual issues can trigger the body’s physiological response to stress, “fight/flight”.  For years I suffered from hyperacusis (fortunately no longer) and can tell you it can be unbearable at times. These issues can be so debilitating, people who suffer from them may not leave their home in order to avoid the triggers.

Yesterday The New York Times published an interesting article “When a Chomp or a Slurp Is a Trigger for Outrage. It delves into misophonia, and sheds some light on why sounds can trigger rage. If you read it please comment here. I am very interested in your reaction to this information.

What’s That Buzzing Sound?

Flashback to 1985, its 2:00 a.m. and I ask my friend what that buzzing sound is. “What sound?” he replies. I can’t figure out where this strange noise is coming from and he tells me he can’t hear it. This was incredibly disquieting and led to a sleepless night. We were on winter break in my freshman year of college and had just returned from a concert by one of my favorite California Punk Rock bands (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) at the Utah State Fairgrounds in Salt Lake City.

As a child I experienced ear infections, had ear tubes, and later developed hyperacousis which is sensitivity to certain sounds. On this fateful night at age 17, listening to loud, hard charging music my apparently fragile auditory system reached a threshold where it could no longer offer protection from this sustained aural assault. I experienced an acoustic trauma which quite likely started the ringing in my ears which I later learned was called tinnitus.

I’m one of the fortunate people who only have brief experiences with these unusual noises seemingly created from within. They are short lived and only occur when I am under acute stress.  However there are millions far less fortunate including my wife who have sustained and often punishing perception of noise. She suffers from a hearing loss and what is often unbearable tinnitus.

Paradoxically an article just came to my attention titled “That Buzzing Sound- The mystery of tinnitus”. It was published in today’s issue of The New Yorker-Digital Edition. The author is Jerome Groopman who opens with a similar experience to my own where he makes the rather unpleasant discovery of a phantom noise that only he could perceive. Huge advancements have been made in tinnitus research and treatment. This is a well researched article that I highly encourage you to read if you or anyone you know experiences that strange buzzing sound.    

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/02/09/090209fa_fact_groopman?currentPage=all