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Autism – Sensory issues: Noise

I’m very noise sensitive. If the neighbours have music on and there’s a beat coming through the wall it gets to me. It got so bad once that I jumped in my car and drove to West Kirby marine lake because I just needed to get out. I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t do anything. I just needed out. I can’t really explain the feeling other than growing anxiety, stress, panic and tension in my stomach. If I’m at home and the neighbours put music on I have to put mine on louder, which isn’t really very polite. The other option is to leave but I work from home so sometimes I can’t. That feeling though. That constant barrage of inescapable sound that makes me want to walk in front of a bus just to find peace. It’s terror.

I also have issues in loud environments processing sound. Chatting with people in a bar is impossible. I just can’t process what you’ve said. I can probably hear it but it’s noise. I can’t really seperate it from the 200 conversations going on against a beat from an overly loud DJ. We may as well stand there and setup a WhatsApp group. That’d be way easier. Now I’ve got the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis and I’m less worried about what people think of me if I bail out of these situations. I’ll be polite but at the same time I need to look after my mental health. Christmas Party season is coming up soon. Another reason why it’s great to work from home. No social pressures. Annoyingly I go to a lot of exhibition launches and sometimes thats the only time to chat to other photographers. It’s very hard work but it can be rewarding. If only everyone looked at the work in silence and then went to a quiet cafe to talk after or better yet all talk on Slack or WhatsApp in silence while walking around the exhibition. Not everyone attending is a confident social being and you could argue that face to face events aren’t 100% inclusive. Maybe every gallery needs a publicly accessible text-based communication channel to allow for discussion on the latest exhibition. Slack for Galleries? All that said I really did enjoy having a coffee and a chat with a mate from San Francisco the other week in a nice quiet cafe. A decent face to face conversation in a quiet environment is a fantastic thing for me. Incredibly rewarding.

Right after I was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum I went to John Lewis and bought noise cancelling headphones. They are expensive but knowing I’m disabled I decided they were a medical necessity. I was right. I can now be pretty much anywhere and find peace with those headphones. At home I don’t have to put my music on loud to block out the neighbours. I can enjoy a quiet orchestral score on a safe volume and be calm. I can sit in a loud bar and do the same. They are life changing. They freed me from feeling like I wanted to stab things into my arms just to distract myself from the noise or walking out into traffic. I don’t use those words casually because being trapped by noise really really terrorises me. I’m lucky I can afford these expensive Sony WH-1000MX2 headphones. Not everyone can. The technology is getting cheaper though. Maybe one day it’ll be standard on all headphones. But for now if you’re austitic and face this same terror then try and find a way to get some noise cancelling headphones.

By Pete

Photographer and part time Spider-man.