A Sensory Break

Noise Sensitivity: A Success Story

I’ve seen many variations on this post written by parents, but I thought I’d offer my perspective on it as well.

Last night, my mom and I went out for a “quiet dinner” at Friendly’s, after a long day of visiting several bookstores and hobby shops on the North Shore. As we entered we noticed a group (later identified more specifically as 16) of junior high schoolers milling around the entrance. We exchanged looks but decided after driving all day, we might as well enter the restaurant.

Once we were seated, I was immediately aware there was going to be an issue. Our table was in the same section as the longer tables designed to hold large groups. We discussed asking for a change in table, but a quick tour of the building showed there were no other tables open. Our only options were to keep the table or leave, so we stayed. 

After we ordered, I began to get visibly nervous. My tics got worse, I was drumming on the table. I was perseverating on the fact that the gaggle of teens we had seen at the entrance would soon be near us. My mom again asked if I would rather get the food to go, and I again declined. We were twenty minutes from home and the meal would have been cold and the ice cream melted by the time we got there. Not to mention this was my only meal all day, so I was rather hungry.

When the waitress brought the meals out, the horde of teenagers followed the hostess close behind. They were just as awful as I expected them to be, repeatedly getting out of thei chairs (even after the manager had told them this wasn’t allowed), tossing food at one another, and speaking in what was far-from their “indoor voices.”

Noticing that I was losing control, my mom swooped in for the rescue. First, she suggested I took a short walk outside to clear my mind. When I returned she had switched our places at the table so that my deaf ear faced the teens. She mentioned that if I tilted my head slightly left, I could inconsqpicuously cover/plug my ears and I complied. Twice more during the course of the meal she suggested I take a walk to cool off. These plans helped considerably and we made it through the meal without incident.

On the drive home, we discussed the situation. We talkedabout how little Cale would have sat under the table and screamed, and joked about the the evening in my toddlehood when I had successfully emptied a restaurant doing just that. We brainstormed other approaches we could have taken such as telling the host at the beginning that we would rather wait for a table in a quieter section of the restaurant or skipping dessert and whipping up some cookies at home instead. She complimented my ability to hold it all together, and I thanked her for stepping in despite knowing it might have aggravated me further.

Noise sensitivity is one of my most difficult issues and one that constantly needs readdressing. Because I often blank-out or shut-down when overloaded, I tell all friends within the first few times I meet them about my issues with sound. I’m forever grateful to the ones who step in and help out, from the one who gathered up to-go boxes and suggested we relocate when the sorority girls broke into chants during lunch, to the one who always makes sure the television and radio are at reasonable volumes because “Cale’s allergic to loud noises,” to the one who offered her room as a sensory break room during college parties. These are true friends, and I know I’m lucky to have them.

frogger11758 on Twitter
Cale Irwin

0 thoughts on “A Sensory Break

  • August 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm
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    I can’t process speech with all that kind of noise… I hear everything all at once and can’t always focus on what is actually being said to me. The people I work with at CVS don’t get it that I can’t understand them if they talk with their backs to me or from two aisles over. I’ve had to tell them more than once, “Hang on.” and walk closer to them so I can understand. There is also the Muzak to contend with and the “commercials” that play over the speakers. By the time I’m done work, I’m in overload.

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  • July 31, 2010 at 1:43 pm
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    I’m so happy for you handling it! (I used to have tons of sensory issues, especially noise, now with medication I don’t)

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  • July 31, 2010 at 5:23 am
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    Thank you for sharing your story/experience! I work with kids with special needs Your sharing has definitely given me some insight about what to do when my kids become overwhelmed by surrounding sound. You are lucky that you have a very supportive family and a bunch of supportive friends. I’m happy for you!

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