Sound Sensitivities and Calmer: Felipe's Story
Since we launched Calmer® we've heard how much they've been helping autistic people who have sensitive hearing. Felipe got in touch with us to let us know how helpful he's found them.
We think this wonderful blog will it will be incredibly helpful for anyone who is interested in sound sensitivities or learning more about autism.
Thank you Felipe : )
I'm a multidisciplinary artist, lawyer and independent researcher in symbology, philosophy and art. I'm 30 years old and I'm part of the autistic spectrum. As an artist I spend most of my time creating and reading. My work mainly focuses on sculpture (marble and bronze), oil painting, but I am also a photographer, digital artist and performer. That is to say, I embrace a great number of disciplines that explore the symbolism of existence and the mysteries of life: spirituality, the unconscious, death, etc. Being autistic has given me a different perspective to address these issues and is something that I continually express in my work.
I always knew I was different from the rest. From a very young age and as an adult I felt that I didn't fit into social spaces easily, because I didn't understand what was going on, because they didn't understand me or because I simply wasn't interested. But about 3 years ago I traveled to Valencia, Spain, to do my master's degree in arts. This experience meant facing new patterns that I had not internalized. By changing country, university, career, fellow students and housemates, I began to feel certain symptoms or sensations that I thought I had overcome in my childhood (auditory hypersensitivity, literalism in language, problems with reading social signs). But then I began to experience others that I didn't remember so well: general hypersensitivity with all senses, anxiety and depression.
I wasn't familiar with that set of abnormal characteristics so I quickly searched the internet based on the comments of a person who was knowledgeable about autism. After making some tests for Autism Spectrum Disorder, I discovered that this could be my case. To be sure, I looked for professionals who could corroborate that intuition and after several sessions, they gave me my diagnosis. It was autism grade I, formerly known as Asperger's, but the important thing, beyond the new label to something that was always there and never had a name, was to understand why after so many years this painful experience had returned.
Thus I learned that intense emotional stress scenarios reinforced the less pleasant characteristics of autism, causing a regression, that is to say, that many of the faculties I had learned throughout my life, such as social skills or emotional understanding, disappeared under the stress I was living. A kind of Burnout that sharpened the sensitivity in general. And the sensitivity reinforced the stress, and so on in a loop of anxiety / hypersensitivity.
Having clarity at that point allowed me to find a solution to cut the loop: isolate myself, take my sensory detox spaces, not to expose myself too much, cover my ears, etc. Little by little I got out of that loop with the essential learning about myself to recognize in time the signals that make me go backwards and not to enter that circle anymore.
I understand autism as a form of neurodivergence. Being different and this means, processing and reacting to information from my environment in an alternative way. From sensory stimuli, with hyper or hypo sensitivity but also, processing information from my interests or contact with others. Being autistic allows me to see things that others do not see and, at the same time that for me, there are many things that are invisible. The difference is that I no longer force myself or blame myself for it. I know that my brain and my identity are based on a different configuration, like having an alternate operating system than most. It allows me to find patterns, solutions, elements that others do not see and learn from the paths used by others.
Now, being autistic means being forced to be bilingual. Bilingual in the sense that we, the autistic, must try to understand the world according to the ordinary persons, with their codes, rhythms and so on, while at the same time we try to speak from ourselves with our neurodivergence and our own codes, routines and rhythms. That means that autism is a daily challenge to move in a scenario that does not welcome us easily. From the hyper stimulation of sensory pollution that is everywhere and it’s as difficult as celebrating a new year with pyrotechnic fireworks, to trying to pay attention in class.
This world has been able to take advantage of neurodivergence in many fields where autistic people have provided incalculable contributions in science, arts, sports, etc., but it hasn’t been able to give back with inclusion to autistic people, so I believe that we must celebrate and support all initiatives that put their attention on the autistic community and their needs.
I am hypersensitive with all my senses. I have photosensitivity, which affects me with migraines but allows me to better understand light in my photographs and paintings. I am sensitive to touch, humidity, which also allows me to experience other types of pleasure. I am hypersensitive to certain smells that I can't stand but I also enjoy some aromas with deep intensity. I am intolerant to textures and flavors and at the same time that has allowed me to explore cooking as a personal language.
But perhaps one of the biggest difficulties is with auditory hypersensitivity. Going out in the street, entering a supermarket, having a group conversation are examples of simple actions that can affect the quality of daily life of a person with high sensitivity. For people who do not understand it is similar to the experience of someone with a migraine, hangover or severe headache and, in that condition, trying to go out in the street or go shopping or go to a family event or concert. And so on, but every day.
I even remember a walk on the beach when the sound of the waves made me uncomfortable because it was too loud. Those experiences that would normally be pleasant became painful. But also with indoor sounds: there are things that can be truly unbearable: washing the dishes, the vacuum cleaner, ambulances or the tool I have to use in my work. In practice, it means a permanent sensory overload that prevents you from being able to concentrate on other things or makes it difficult to live together.
I think one of the things that prevents us from interacting with others is that we first try to cope with the overstimulation. And that's where the anxiety attacks and it comes from. That is to say, this is not a friendly situation for us or for the people around us and isolation has been the main option but, it seems to me, it is the one that does not allow us to explore better solutions.
Calmer has been a great discovery. I received a notification on social media where they were offered and it didn't take me a moment to want to try them. I tried a lot of things beforehand, trying first of all to alleviate the anxiety caused by the extremely loud and permanent noise that I experience everywhere. Natural painkillers, CBD oils and so on. They worked it's true, but that was attacking the symptoms and not the causes and in this case, my main problem was facing the sounds. Then I used the ear protectors that I use for stone carving. They cancelled the very loud sounds, and in extreme cases they help me but it was too much for daily life because for example, I can’t use them to ride a bicycle, because when it cancels all the sounds it’s also dangerous since it’s difficult to identify the sound from cars or to go to a meeting or something, because it’s very uncomfortable to wear those ear protectors.
The calmer arrived and I immediately tried them in my ears. I thought they would be uncomfortable but in reality I can even forget I’m using them and I have to check if I’ve them in my ears, because since I don't feel them, I think I’ve lost them.
Then I did my field tests with surprising results: I can go to the supermarket without a traumatic experience. Now a night out with friends or going on the bus, with the sounds of cars, the engine, and people talking, no longer seems unbearable to me. I see it differently now. To make an analogy, it's like wearing sunglasses on a sunny day. With the right protection you can lead a life without daily trauma and that radically alters people's quality of life. It is no longer a daily struggle. It is not the solution to all the problems of autism but I consider it a solution to one of the great difficulties we have.
For me, the Calmers act directly on the source of the problem that affects me, and I think many other people on the spectrum, and that is the sound hypersensitivity that activates the sensitivity/anxiety loop effect. When you're no longer permanently exposed and you don't feel like the world is screaming at you, I think there's a different reaction. I feel like I can concentrate on what I'm doing or even just enjoy those things that used to be torture. I have tried them in different environments and situations and in all of them I have found better results with the exception of eating, where I prefer to remove them so I don't hear too much what I’ve inside of my mouth.
I have tried outdoors and indoors, exposing myself to tool noise, etc, also for sleeping, with the Calmer Night and I feel I can concentrate more to interact with others because I am no longer using my energy to endure the pain of the sound in my head. And without this obstacle, the world seems to be a different place.
Thank you to those who designed this product. Deepest thanks and congratulations.
Thank YOU Felipe - what a brilliant blog we know that this will be extremely helpful for many people.
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