Boom, Bang, Chirp: the Sounds of Summer and the Auditory System

Summertime is filled with distinct noises, like that of a fire engine in the Fourth of July parade, fireworks exploding in the sky, or the steady hum of crickets chirping in the yard. For some children, these sounds can be quite stressful. Like the other sensory systems (touch, taste, smell, sight, etc), your child’s sense of hearing, or their auditory system, takes in information, processes it, and produces an external response. Sometimes, this information isn’t processed correctly. In these cases, your child may demonstrate hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sound, and those fun summertime activities become a source of anxiety for your little one.

What is hypersensitivity?
If your child seems to overreact to everyday sounds or seems easily distracted by noise that you are able to tune out, she is demonstrating auditory hypersensitivity. Your child may experience an intense fear of mechanical items with “whirring” sounds, such as vacuum cleaners, hand dryers or flushing toilets in public restrooms, blender, hairdryer, and coffee grinder. She may overreact to unexpected sounds by covering her ears or crying. She may seem to be overly tuned in to background noise in the environment, such as the fan spinning or the clock ticking.

What is hyposensitivity?
If your child seems to enjoy loud noises in his environment, demonstrates difficulty figuring out where a sound is coming from (localizing), and/or has difficulty figuring out what a sound is (distinguishing), he is demonstrating auditory hyposensitivity. Your child may constantly create noises with his mouth throughout the day. He may prefer to keep the television very loud, but become upset when others speak loudly. He may have difficulty hearing and responding when his name is called, especially from another room.

What causes these kinds of sensory auditory dysfunction?
The stapedius is a middle ear muscle that contracts in response to loud noise in order to protect the small hair follicles on our inner ears. Scientists say that sensory-based auditory issues may be due to a poorly-functioning stapedius. The middle and inner ear muscle systems are also important in the function of other sensory structures, such as the vestibular system – which determines your child’s equilibrium and balance.

What can I do?
If your child is demonstrating some of the behaviors above, consider contacting one of our occupational therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to minimize distraction, utilize noise-cancelling items, work through difficult school-based tasks, and more! If your child is demonstrating difficulty with language interpretation, difficulty learning to read, and/or a speech delay that are accompanied with the symptoms listed above, he may be experiencing Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). APD is dysfunction in the brain’s ability to translate sounds. An audiologist can help identify the issue and provide suggestions for next steps.

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jen Brown, MS, OTR/L
Director of Occupational Therapy Services

Reference: Dodd, George. (2002). Distinguishing sound from noise- the significance of attention and noise sensitivity. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 112, 2243. 25 October 2002. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.4778910

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