It was a busy summer day when hyperacusis presented as a super power – one of bionic hearing. Michelle and her kids were getting out of their SUV to go to a local playground. The playground was situated in the middle of a hopping shore town. If one paused for a moment, they could hear a wide array of sounds.
Sounds of joyful kids running around the playground.
Sounds of cars and loud motorcycles whizzing by.
Sounds of airplanes flying low overhead trailing their banner ads.
Sounds of the Coast Guard helicopters with their occasional fly by,
Sounds of balls bouncing at the basketball court and sounds of tennis balls being wacked by tennis rackets at the tennis courts.
As they were piling out of their SUV, Michelle’s 5 year old daughter, Rebecca, asked, “What is that dripping sound, Mommy?”.
“What dripping sound?”, Michelle questioned.
Rebecca stopped in her tracks. She stood for a moment on the sidewalk. She focused in on the dripping sound. Rebecca points….”There it is, Mommy!”
Rebecca was pointing to the condensation from the SUV’s air conditioning dripping in a very small puddle on the ground.
One might think Rebecca has bionic hearing. In clinical terms, this may be considered Hyperacusis.
What is Hyperacusis?
“Hyperacusis is a condition that arises from a problem in the way the brain’s central auditory processing center perceives noise. It can often lead to pain and discomfort. Individuals with hyperacusis have difficulty tolerating sounds which do not seem loud to others, such as the noise from running faucet water, riding in a car, walking on leaves, dishwasher, fan on the refrigerator, shuffling papers.
Although all sounds may be perceived as too loud, high frequency sounds may be particularly troublesome. As one might suspect, the quality of life for individuals with hyperacusis can be greatly compromised. For those with a severe intolerance to sound, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to function in an every day environment with all its ambient noise.”(1)
Children with a hypersensitivity to sound at times may experience sensory overload and other times almost seem to have a super power – bionic hearing.
Kids with hypersensitivity to sound can hear sounds that others simply learned to tune out.
In the classroom setting, kids with this hypersensitivity may process the heater turning on far louder than their peers. These sounds could be loud enough to distract some kids from their task. It could send them on an auditory location quest to determine the root of the sound they are hearing.
Explore More >> Auditory Discrimination: What is that Sound?
If a child has a known auditory processing disorder or sensory discrimination disorder with a hypersensitivity to sound, take into consideration the subtle impacts of hyperacusis. For example, if you, as a parent or teacher, are speaking to the child and he appears to not be listening, it may be that the child is focused in on locating a sound.
Many children with even a mild case of hyperacusis often get into trouble for “not listening” or “not following directions”. It is not an intentional defiant behavior, it is a very real struggle the child is experiencing.
Just like Rebecca, she may just be focused on a sound that she is trying to locate and is tuning you out in the process. Or the sound may be so loud to a child like Rebecca that she is incapable of tuning it out to be able to focus on anything else.
Explore More >> Is it Auditory Attention or Auditory Distractibility?
Hyperacusis: Mechanisms, Diagnosis, and Therapiesby David M. Baguely and Gerhard Andersson
Living with Tinnitus and Hyperacusis – Comprehensive and Authoritativeby Dr. Laurence McKenna
Supersensitive to Sound? (3rd Edition): You May Have Hyperacusisby Neil G Bauman
Tortured by Sound: Beyond Human Enduranceby Carol L. Brook
(1) “Hyperacusis: An Increased Sensitivity to Everyday Sounds.” American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.