Sounds. Some sounds are soothing like the sound of a gentle wind rustling leaves or wind chimes. Some sounds are absolutely annoying – beyond normal annoying. When I was sitting in the classroom at school, some classroom sounds would send me into complete overwhelm.
I highly recommend that you consider these sometimes distracting and other times completely overwhelming classroom sounds as distractions to kids with auditory or sensory isms. If you are an educator, please keep these challenges in mind as you write Individualized Education Plans this spring.
If your child does not have accommodations and modifications assigned to them that can weave these solutions in, consider being proactive and independently resolve the chaos these sounds have the potential to create.
From my personal perspective, some sounds were just way too much for me to manage. Let’s take a look at the most challenging sounds.
Classroom Sounds: Loud Bells
For me, one of the dreaded sensory overstimulating classroom sounds was the bell that rings to signify the start of the day. In middle and highschool, it also blares loudly at the end of one class when it’s time to move to another class. Guess what? A lot of students, sensory defensive or not can’t stand that bell.
Consider ear plugs to numb the sound a bit. If your child has a smart phone, consider using a timer app like the Fun Timer to alert your child that the bell is close to ringing. Set the timer to go off in vibration mode in his pocket five minutes before the bell. That should give him enough time to put the ear plugs in. Be sure he has back up ear plugs in his desk, back pack and pockets. If your child is too young to carry a smart phone, coordinate with your child’s teacher or another school professional to schedule any timer. For students in middle or highschool, the timer would have to be scheduled to go off multiple times throughout the day.
If the ear plugs are not enough to prevent you from over-stimulation, consider full blown noise cancelling headphones.
Classroom Sounds: Hum of the Lights
Another distraction in the classroom that drove me crazy was the sound of fluorescent lights humming, especially when a classroom is quiet. Imagine concentrating on a test you are taking with that constant hum. I would find myself in a personal battle trying to not look up at the lights and remain focused on what the teacher was saying.
Ask the teacher to have maintenance stop the hum. It can be done, here is an instructional.
Perhaps the classroom can switch from fluorescent to LED options?
Talk to the principal to see if there is an alternate lighting option instead of those flourescent lights such as natural lighting or full spectrum lighting.
Classroom Sounds from Classmates & Teachers
It’s not so much of an issue now that most classrooms have white boards, but the sound of the chalk scratching on the blackboard was often more than I could manage.
The kid sitting next to me who had his own need to fidget drove me batty as he compulsively tapped his fingers or pencil on his desk.
At test time or during quiet time that involved any form of writing with pencils was excruciating. Imagine 25 kid’s pencils vigorously writing on the paper placed on their hard surfaced desks. Now magnify that sound – a lot.
I always sought a seat in the front row so I did not have to see what the other kids were doing and it sometimes was enough to help detract from the sounds they were all making.
Other times, the clickety clack of a teachers heels going down the hallway would distract me from my work. Sometimes I could hear other children in the hall well after they turned the corner and headed down another hallway.
Again, ear plugs may help to attenuate the sounds. A classroom or portable FM system may be of help for when the teacher is talking as the teachers voice will override all the other sounds. Ask the teacher to give the fidgety, pencil tapper an appropriate fidget. Consider putting a piece of construction paper under the paper kids are working on to reduce the sound of scraping pencils. Spread the word, maybe teachers can avoid those high heels? Increase hall monitoring to help keep the hallways quiet.
If the distractions become too much to handle, consider talking to your teacher about working in a private, quiet space, especially during testing.
Classroom Sounds: The Dreaded Fire Drill
Randomly, throughout the year, there will be fire and various safety drills. It’s hard to tell the littlest of students to not get scared. Even though fire drills exist to make sure that everything is working in case of an emergency. Fire alarms are extremely loud to the typical ear – imagine sensory defensive ears.
Once the alarm starts blaring, be sure that the child with sensitive hearing is first in line to head out the door. Plan ahead and ensure that the head count location is farthest from the school to decrease the sound.
Ask the principal to alert your child in advance so he can be prepared. If they can provide the time and date that the drills will take place, be sure to have your noise cancelling headphones in your child’s back back or in his desk. As suggested above, consider setting a vibrating alarm watch 15 minutes in advance so you have time to get your headphones out of your bag.
A Wonderful Resource
Let your child and the children in her class know that she is not alone. There are children’s books published about this very issue after all. A wonderful resource for a child with sound sensitivities along with their classmates or even teachers who need a little nudge towards understanding is Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload.
Meet Izzy, a feisty first grader, whose behavior is often misunderstood as she tries to cope with sensory overload in her new surroundings. This brightly illustrated book creates an environment that is accepting of students with sensory modulation difficulties, including many on the autism spectrum. It’s a great resource for occupational therapists, teachers, and parents to share with children.
If you are a teacher and you have a student in your class that is “not following directions” or is “not focused” they may very well be distracted by a wide variety of sounds that you could simply tune out. If the child has an auditory or sensory ism – be especially considerate and consider helping the student make these simple modifications. It’s a sure way to ensure success for the student and decrease your frustration at the same time.