Updates on Using Noise Cancellation for Sensory Overload at Work

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Ear plugs and ear muffs for increased hearing protection.

I’ve been using noise cancellation to concentrate better at work and would like to give an update about it.

 

I used them heavily so that two pairs of earmuffs were broken! I know I’ve written a lot of articles about needing noise cancellation!

Even on the first day of my most recent job, I used dual hearing protection. My goal was to block out music playing and other noise sources which tend to affect my concentration, cause zoning out, and affect other areas of functioning. Thankfully, my job coach mentioned to my employer that I needed hearing protection and they didn’t mind it.

Around this August, the need for hearing protection was reconfirmed. My supervisor noticed that I was easily distracted and it took too long to complete my work. That day during lunch, I even took the time to hand write a letter and showed it to him, pointing out that I thought I needed good hearing protection.

After lunch, I did a simulation of the tasks which was timed. That means instead of doing the actual work, I did it on a workbench so that I could practice it as often as I like. For one of them, it’s reasonable to complete it in 20 to 30 minutes.

For a long time, I was taking 45 to 60 minutes to complete it even when using only ear muffs. When I did the simulation with dual protection, I was able to complete it in less than 25 minutes! My supervisor was even surprised that I was faster doing the simulation compared to doing the real work.

One issue with regular ear plugs is that they get uncomfortable from prolonged usage. If you wear regular ones for a long time, you may find that your ears hurt. I decided to try custom fitted non-vented ear plugs from Nextgen Hearing. The non-vented ones offer the most attenuation. What they did was put silicone in my ear canals to get an impression. They took around a month to arrive. My reasoning was that being able to work was well worth the cost even though they were quite expensive.

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dB Blocker non-vented custom fitted ear plugs.

Once they arrived, I found that they could be worn all day. The problem was that they weren’t really suitable when there’s a lot of movements which my job involves.  Non-vented ones amplify internal noises more than vented ones. The amplified noises can mask sounds too.

Interestingly, I was told that I acted more withdrawn and moving on to the next tasks was even harder after I got the custom fitted ear plugs. They recommended that I experiment including going to a quiet and dim place or taking a walk when overwhelmed. That makes sense because most of the time, autistic people have more than just one area of difficulties.

Because the custom fitted ear plugs seemed to decrease performance, I decided not to use them at work. They were probably be more suitable for desk jobs which involve less movements.

So far, I have other options including turning down the music and not wearing the regular ear plugs all the time. At work, I’m now using dual protection to concentrate during more time sensitive tasks, and using just earmuffs when it’s less busy to let my ears rest.

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Can Proper Stimming Reduce the Risk of Dental Problems in Autistic People?

It’s possible to reduce harmful forms of stimming by focusing on healthy and safe forms. You can find more information in wikiHow. Would it also benefit autistic people who clench their teeth during the day?

Recently, during my dental check up, some signs of teeth clenching such as gum recession and worn surfaces were noted. I recalled daytime teeth clenching in the past few months. Years ago, I experienced daytime teeth clenching too.

My guess is that teeth clenching can be a form of stimming. It’s more subtle than rocking or hand flapping. You can clench your teeth while eating without people noticing it. In healthy chewing, our teeth rarely touch while chewing.

Since the pressure to stim can eventually get too high that we must stim in one way or another, how do autistic people camouflage so well that they’re diagnosed late or never? Is it possible that they stim in subtle ways or stim in ways that look socially acceptable instead?

Besides teeth clenching, other subtle forms of stimming that I do include squeezing my eyes shut, jerking my head, walking or running on the edge of my foot which may cause stress fractures over time, and flexing certain muscles sometimes to the point of soreness. You can look away while when your stims involve your facial muscles. When running or walking, if you squeeze your glutes while your legs move back, it’s hardly noticeable to other people once they reach their range of motion.

It’s hard for me to imagine avoiding both obvious and subtle forms of stimming for a few hours till I get home when there’s pressure to stim one way or another.

I thought I had Tourette Syndrome. Some people who pointed it out called it tics. If different forms of stimming are used, does that mean the person’s autism or need to stim was outgrown?

Since missing teeth and dental restorations are expensive, we should find a way to stop teeth clenching.

14 Possible Reasons Why People Think Autism Can be Outgrown

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Here are some possible reasons why people think autism can be outgrown:

  • Assumption that autism is caused by heavy metal poisoning which is something that’s treatable.
  • False advertisements for treatments or “cures” for autism.
  • Impression that autistic adults are supposed to look or act like autistic children.
  • Impression that autism is only a childhood disability.
  • Autistic people can get better at suppressing their traits such as stimming and using the right social cues.
  • Revealed strong skills in certain areas may give the impression that the person also needs less support in other areas. Intact rote memory means the student can do well in facts based courses but it doesn’t reflect the person’s coordination or executive function which tends to be their hurdles in terms of employment.
  • Stories about autism being cured.
  • The autistic person received less support which reduced the amount of reminders that the person was autistic.
  • The autistic person joined fewer special needs programs, clubs, or groups which also reduced the amount of reminders that the person was autistic.
  • The autistic person mentioned less about his or her challenges.
  • Chronic sensory overload may be confused with desensitization because the baseline was forgotten.
  • Behind the scene preparations were overlooked. Having successful social interactions may be confused with actual improvements. Notice that in one example, a lot of preparation was needed for every hour of social interaction.
  • Asking for help when writing letters or other accommodations may be mistaken for a lack of maturity or confidence which can be improved. Similar to the previous example, when I write comments, I need lots of preparation time to make sure that it’s in the right mood and has a reasonable amount of information. Why not have your job completed in five minutes instead of one hour?
  • Tests don’t look at their real life abilities which means the scores can be average or even above average.

Possible Benefits of More Obvious Autistic Traits

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If an autistic person’s traits are more obvious, here are the possible benefits:

  • Clearer forms of communication are more likely used to communicate with the person, possibly reducing mistakes and missed opportunities. If I don’t know that a person is hard of hearing, I speak as I would normally until I’m aware of it.
  • More heads up which can lead to improved support needed for autistic boys, girls, men, and women.
  • The autism becomes less invisible.
  • Less canned responses from the autistic person. If a person had autistic facial expressions during childhood, the facial expressions should still look autistic during adulthood when they really express emotions. There’s more than one type of smile. From Google search and other social cues websites, you can find pictures of them but they may only be reliable for reading non-autistic people even if autistic people can fake them.
  • Increased expressiveness. With timings that tends to seem off, maybe that’s why we may not be very expressive. Is it possible that the pressure to “pass” causes “flat affect”?
  • Improved emotional connections or two way communication since real emotions can be expressed. Encouragingly, according to an example from an autistic YouTuber’s comments, even though she didn’t express emotions normally, it’s still readable! That could mean it’s okay to look autistic.
  • Improved productivity as mental resources otherwise used for “passing” is freed up. In addition, because they no longer give up supports from the pressures of having to look non-autistic, they can reduce their hurdles even further! It may make the job more enjoyable because there’s less worry about having to look non-autistic every second in front of co-workers.
  • Mental energy sparing. Autistic people tend to find socializing tiring. If it’s simplified by not having to “pass”, could they be less tired?
  • Fewer misdiagnosis because of clearer symptoms and taking fewer medications reduces side effects which may mimic other conditions.
  • Fewer unnecessary medications used because of reduced misdiagnosis.
  • Sooner diagnosis.
  • Asking for support becomes easier since more heads up were given beforehand which makes the need for accommodations expected.
  • History is less likely to repeat itself. Being more visibly autistic can be a clearer reminder of the need for support, and free up mental resources further because there’s less need to consciously remind people of the challenges.
  • Improved employment rates because if the disability is clear enough that the right accommodations are given, the person is likelier to do the job well. Encouragingly, other people with disabilities can work in a variety of fields. I don’t see why autistic people can’t when given the right support. A subtle disability doesn’t mean it’s any less of a disability than one that’s more obvious.

15 Examples of Situations with Sensory Overload

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Here’s a list of 15 example of sensory overload experiences that I’ve experienced.

  • Ring tones with bells or chimes on my phone seemed so faint and easily missed on the subway. It was likely loud enough for other passengers to hear clearly. It was also a new route that day after classes.
  • I tend to be one of the last students to finish exams and labs in my courses even if my grades were high. Noises include air conditioning and conversations.
  • Writing much notes without visual aids was very difficult for me. Noises include air conditioning and possibly running equipment.
  • In group projects, I lacked concentration which affected contribution possibly due to high sound levels. I may have zoned out too much. The noises include running equipment and conversation
  • While shopping in a noisy environment, I left an item that I bought at a counter. Things seemed unreal like in a dream.
  • During and after shopping at a bike store after work, there was brain fog which lasted for a while after getting home. Noises include traffic and crowds.
  • Leaving my cellphone on a cafeteria tray at a cafeteria at a ski resort. On the way back looking for my phone, I dropped a glove without noticing it until someone notified me of it. I remembered that things seemed unreal. Noises include crowds.
  • While shopping at a store on my day off, my colleague pointed out the fact that I was still there. My brain was processing too slowly. Noises include traffic and music.
  • At restaurants when reading menus, I tend to stare into space. Often, I order the same thing or my family members suggest what to order. Noises include crowds and kitchen activities.
  • Taking too long to complete activities at home with a radio playing. Things seemed unreal.
  • In a driving lesson, when the windows were opened, my driving instructor was concerned about my loss of performance. After closing the windows, he noted that I was driving better. When I drive, I make sure that the windows are closed and the radio is off.
  • On bus rides, I seem to be able to sustain keeping busy for a short time. Noises include engine sounds.
  • I feel that besides looking both ways, it’s very important to scan for turning vehicles even though I have the right of way. Sensory overload seems to make double or triple checking even more important.
  • Easily overlooking bicycle brake squeals when commuting to work.
  • Hardly noticing that a radio was playing in an office until my co-worker asked me whether it was too loud. Noises include typing and air conditioner.

That’s why I’ve been more conscious of the need for hearing protection.

I think we also need awareness of sensory overload for those who are more subtle. There are autistic people who don’t look autistic. Is it common to have sensory overload with only subtle signs?

I plan on wearing them in my future jobs because of the need for alertness. I feel that despite people’s concerns, the improved ability to concentrate can be actually be beneficial for safety. This can remove at least one more hurdle to employment for autistic people. What’s important is that important sounds can still be heard when hearing protection is used.

Is it Impossible to Cure Sensory Processing Disorder by “Getting Used” to it?

It was only in 2017 that I started using hearing protection to control sensory overload.

At first, it may seem extreme and and possible to outgrow it. That’s understandable because non-autistic people can’t test drive an autistic brain and vice versa.

I had many years of exposure to the sound sources that can increase sensory overload without hearing protection. That should have been plenty of time to get used to it.

Here’s my experience with a variety of sensory overload triggers without ear plugs during my full time education.

Elementary school noise sources

  • Sports
  • Crowds
  • Cafeteria
  • Classrooms
  • Forced air heating

High school noise sources

  • Sports
  • Crowds
  • Cafeteria
  • Classrooms
  • Traffic
  • Bus cabins
  • Forced air heating

College (4 years)

  • Crowds
  • Cafeteria
  • Classrooms
  • Bus cabins
  • Traffic
  • Air conditioners

Outside of education, there were more years of exposure to sensory overload triggers.

Even after many years of exposure, I’m still getting the symptoms of sensory overload. Treating it may not be as simple as not using hearing protection. If getting used to it can cure the condition, by now, concentrating in noisy places shouldn’t be too difficult, and those symptoms should have disappeared or became only minor.

If I feel like I’m used to it, it probably means the baseline was forgotten similar to how how people who didn’t sleep much no longer felt tired after a while even though they were objectively tired.

I’m plan on continuing using hearing protection. Despite people’s concerns, I feel that it may actually be safer because I can be more alert which is also required job performance.

Hearing protection isn’t totally sound proof. Healthy hearing has a threshold of around 0dB. If the noise level is 80 dB and you wear both ear plugs and earmuffs which have a combined attenuation of 40 to 50 dB, your ears receive 30 to 40dB. You should still be able to hear. If there’s mild hearing loss, single protection or a lighter duty protection can be used to allow hearing.

Things We Say that can Discourage Autism Related Support or Make Autism Symptoms Seem Normal

As a high-functioning autistic, I feel that some sayings can discourage support for people on the spectrum because they may make the symptoms seem normal, seem outgrown, or cause the condition to be underestimated.

  • We’re all a little autistic
  • Women are usually better multitaskers
  • Men tend to mature later
  • Testosterone lowers empathy
  • Everyone’s affected by noises too
  • Hearing protection makes you isolated
  • A lot of people are shy too
  • Even non-autistics find it difficult
  • You’ll get used to it
  • It’ll be outgrown
  • I understand that its hard
  • You’re so smart
  • Autism is just a label
  • Autism is caused by ___
  • You don’t look autistic
  • You’re normal
  • Difficulties with ___ can be affected by a lack of sleep or hunger
  • HFA isn’t that hard
  • Autism can be cured by diet

Some of them may be true. For example, statistically, most Canadians will eventually find a job. The unemployment rate was only 5.9% in November 2017. For autistic people, that’s sadly not the case. It’s close to 80%!

It’s true that men and women have differently wired brains. How do we draw a line where the person needs supports? At what point is the difficulty multi-tasking considered executive dysfunction. It’s quite common for autistic people to feel drained from socializing while non-autistic people get energized from socializing possibly even in the wee hours of the morning!

I think I needed more support than I was getting. For example, autism related support while working. I will likely need some form of support for the rest of my life because autism can’t be outgrown. In real life, autism tends to be challenging whether high or low functioning.