Sound Sensitivities and Calmer: Summer's Story
Since launching Calmer® we've heard how much they've been helping autistic people who have sensitive hearing. Summer got in touch with us to let us know how helpful she's found them.
Over to you Summer!
I'm Summer, I'm a 23 year old woman and I currently live in Seattle, Washington. I have always loved kids, so I chose to become an educator. I currently teach kindergarten at a private school with 17 students. I just earned my master of education degree and I will soon be starting a masters program for teaching students with visual impairments, which is a passion of mine. Over the past few years, I have taught myself how to read braille by touch, which is a very rare feat for a sighted person! In my spare time, I also like to practice yoga, make gluten free and vegan foods, and spend time with my fiancé. I am also active in the #ActuallyAutistic online community and the disability community.
A previous partner who studied psychology noticed my rigidity, communication / social struggles and sensory needs and noted that I have autistic traits. I dismissed it for a couple of years. Being isolated from other people for months due to COVID protocols provided me with freedom and permission to be myself (i.e. to "mask" less, or not at all). It gave me a break from sensory stimulation. But once I started to go in public again, I began to realize how much conscious energy I must put into communicating, socializing, and attempting to "act normal." I realized how much discomfort I am generally under due to sound and light. I realized that I almost always force facial expressions and stifle natural self-stimulatory movements. I was also encountering a lot of miscommunications with co-workers and my students' parents and was looking for a cause of why I am like this. Once I discovered the online autistic community and started learning, I related to it all instantly, and got evaluated and diagnosed within a few months, at the age of 22. I realize that I was very privileged to have access to this evaluation.
How I see the world...
As an autistic person, I think I view the world quite differently. I tend to be ruled by logic and have rigid thinking patterns. I find joy and satisfaction in routines, repetition and sameness- in food, clothing, media, experiences, and pretty much everything else. I prefer conversation about real-world topics, or something useful or interesting, over small talk. I'm great at planning, scheduling, managing money and logistics, and making things fit together. I'm not so great at driving, taking others perspectives, matching clothes and interior design.
I don't mind loud sound when it is continuous or predictable; I actually enjoy concerts and loud music. For me it is the suddenness and pitch that bothers me. When sounds are unexpected, like a student screeching during quiet work time, or when my roommate starts squealing out of excitement, that suddenness really shocks me. It makes me jump and hurts my ears, sometimes causing a ringing sound. This is especially true when the sound is also high-pitched in nature. Lastly, I have a hard time processing auditory speech when multiple people are speaking at once.
Being a kindergarten teacher is not for the faint of heart! I absolutely love children under age 6, but they are still learning to control their body and voice, which can be straining. In general, I enjoy the mid-range hum of students chatting, working and playing. However, when the whole group is doing a science experiment, art project or game and they are all speaking at once (even with appropriate indoor voices), it becomes quite overwhelming and causes anxiety. My heart beats fast and I begin to feel on-edge. I first tried Calmer as an attempt to lessen this anxiety response, and I have been very impressed. Wearing Calmer at work lessens my anxiety following loud time periods by maybe 50-60%. In addition, I have two neurodiverse students (one autistic and one ADHD) whose sensory needs are opposite of my own. They engage in a LOT of vocal stimming (echolalia), repeating high-pitched sounds out loud. I understand the need to stim, so I use Calmer to dull the sound while still allowing my students to regulate themselves in the way they need to.
Lastly, I do quite a bit of cooking and baking. I often use my blender, food processor, mixer, juicer, etc. and I've always had an aversion to the "whirring" sound of these machines. One day while coincidentally wearing Calmer, I used the food processor and was absolutely astonished at the fact that the sound was no longer unbearable! It was tolerable- less intense, less jarring, less intrusive. I even took one out of my ear and then put it back in to check that I was not just making it up. It was real! Since then, I wear Calmer when using these devices, and it has made the experience so much nicer!! This was an unexpected benefit that I have come to love.
Thank you Summer - we really enjoyed reading about your experience as a kindergarten teacher, about your life as an autistic person and and learning about how helpful you have found Calmer - we really appreciate the time you have taken to write this brilliantly informative piece : )
Team Flare x
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