Ear Candy

“Hi, is that your son? The one with the orange earplugs?”

I don’t even have to look to know that she’s talking about my kid. Earplugs are a standard part of his attire, especially here, at an echoing indoor soccer field filled with special needs athletes and their aides and coaches.

The other mom gestures towards our kids who are gathering at the center of the field for their closing circle. “Sorry, but my son seems to be pretty fascinated by your son’s earplugs.”

Her child sits as close as he can to mine, ignoring the coaches and instead staring intently at the side of my kid’s head.A_Spring 08 earplugs

My son gets his fair share of notice due to his earplugs. For awhile, the only foam earplugs we could find came in fluorescent orange or some other obnoxious color—to, what, demonstrate quickly to the foreman that we are following the safety protocols? Not such a great choice when trying to subtly integrate a sound-sensitive kid. Whenever I find the rare beige-colored ones, I buy in bulk.

When my son was six years old, he suddenly developed an unexpected aversion to the playground. At school, he refused to go outside at recess, which was odd for a kid who loves to run and climb and swing. After some investigation we determined that it was the noise level—the chaotic unpredictability of his classmates’ loud voices.

B_Dec 05

His teachers and I eventually coaxed him back outside, with the help of extra snacks and a social-story-poem complete with sound effects of playground noises on PowerPoint slides. (Yeah, somehow I had more time back then).

But from that point on, his sensitivity to noise became more apparent. My boy began covering his ears at any loud or unanticipated noise—but especially others’ voices. So much so that he was having trouble doing things because his fingers were busy plugging his ears.

Our life became a game of treacherous navigation. I learned to anticipate the sounds that would most aggravate him so I could give him fair warning if the culprit could not be avoided or, when possible, steer him clear of the worst offenders entirely.

C_Oct 06

  • At home, the vacuum, hair dryer and ice dispenser had to be used strategically and only with prior authorization. My routine for making a morning smoothie involved placing all ingredients in the Vitamix and then carrying the machine to the farthest end of the house, behind two closed doors, before turning it on.
  • We doctored the speakers on his toys with felt or cotton balls and duct tape—why do they make them SO loud, and with no volume control?
  • He resisted people speaking too loudly, or talking over each other. Those who cleared their throats, coughed, or sneezed garnered no sympathy. Teaching him to say, “Bless you” instead of “NOOO!” is still an ongoing challenge.Cc_Summer 07
  • In the public restroom, the looming threat of an automatically flushing toilet—and the unpredictable ones in the next stalls that could strike at any moment—combined with those menacing air hand dryers to make a pee-stop a stressful experience.
  • At school, the raucous cafeteria demanded daily ear protection. And forget third-grade music class. Twenty-five kids playing recorders? Just no. He skipped that entire unit.D_Summer 08 SkullCandy

Our photo albums show the gradual transition from occasional moments of hands-over-ears to the more regular appearance of headphones or earplugs. Now noise reduction is just a normal part of his daily routine—on school mornings, we head out the door donning socks and shoes, backpack…and last, but never least, earplugs. He knows the various places his earplugs are stashed (backpack, bedroom, living room drawer, my purse, the car) and he chooses to wear them when he anticipates too much noise.

Early on, I worried that he would grow too accustomed to hearing the world through earplugs and would never be able to cope with it un-muffled. I also dreaded the stares and odd questions that wearing ear protection invariably provokes. Kids always ask what’s in his ears. Adults usually just make their own assumptions—like the friendly guy who asked him how he did at target shooting.

E_ears w Guerry036

I’m wondering what this kid at soccer practice must be thinking about my son’s ears, but I’m used to the questions by now. Just as I begin to tell his mother not to worry, her kid reaches out and snatches the earplug out of my son’s right ear.  His mother and I both gasp as—in the next beat—her kid decides to see how a sweaty orange foam earplug tastes.

I really didn’t see that one coming.

This is life with “sensory” kids!

Click here to check out these other bloggers in The Sensory Spectrum’s Blog Hop!




  1. Full Spectrum Mama · June 10, 2014

    LOL. I am still stuck on the Power Point. You are SOME MAMA!!!!
    And what a fabulous, real Happy Ending. Stay quirky indeed ❤

  2. kermommy · June 10, 2014

    That would be my son with the earplugs…and my daughter tasting one. 🙂

  3. ktonette · June 10, 2014

    Love this! Because I’m a teacher of kids with hearing loss, I’m just curious if you’ve had his hearing checked. Does he have super-human dog-like hearing? I assume it’s just the sensory kiddo in him, but my obsession with hearing makes me curious. Love the blog!!!

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 10, 2014

      Thanks! Yes, he had a hearing test early on, to make sure that wasn’t the issue when his speech wasn’t developing. We haven’t ever confirmed the level at which he hears, although we do suspect he’s got Superman ears.

  4. Jessica · June 10, 2014

    Love it- especially the part about music class. The music teacher at our school cannot figure out why so many children have difficulty, especially during the recorder unit. Love the accommodation that you’ve created for your child so that he can have equal access to life!

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 10, 2014

      Thanks! Those recorders are truly the worst, I can’t believe those teachers can stand it!

  5. Zita · June 10, 2014

    Ha! The ending made me laugh out loud. Great post. We are working around a mildly noise adverse kiddo as well. I wish he would wear ear plugs but has tactile aversion outweighs his issues with noise :people I find it is starting to improve a bit- or at least his anxiety is reducing. Are there any sounds your son finds especially soothing?

    Thanks for hopping! 🙂

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 10, 2014

      Thanks! Hmm, soothing sounds? His own voice, I think! Our house is very quiet, except when you count his contributions, and then really, it’s never quiet! It took awhile for him to be ok with earplugs, but once several sets of headphones broke, he resigned himself to them, I think.

  6. Robyn R · June 10, 2014

    Ha!! makes you wonder if the other child might have a touch of sensory issues, too. 🙂

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 10, 2014

      🙂 Oh yes, I have little doubt! It was such a funny moment, one of those I really only have in the company of other SN parents!

  7. Heather Nelson · June 10, 2014

    LOL the ending had me laughing! Both my boys have seemed to become more regulated in this aspect as well. My oldest son had the hardest time in third grade- he had a rather loud classroom- he spent the majority of his days in headphones. Lately they’ve seemed to only come out for parades or birthday parties…I’ll have to look into the ear plugs! They might be a little less noticeable…

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 10, 2014

      Thanks! Yes, earplugs are less noticeable-and way more convenient…I can carry spares easily. We tried headphones too, but once they became projectiles during meltdowns we had to find a better alternative! I do feel that maybe he is getting a little less sensitive over time too.

  8. Tyann Rouw · June 10, 2014

    I really enjoyed this post. My son can hear his bus coming for blocks and blocks before anyone else can see it. We’ve had a lot of issues with hairdryers, mixers (mashing potatoes with a mixer sends him into tears and tantrums), hand dryers, flushing toilets, and the like. I sleep with ear plugs many nights because it helps me to relax and tune out sounds. I’m impressed by your deep commitment to your son and the amazing Power Point!

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 12, 2014

      Thanks so much, I knew this story would sound familiar to others 🙂 I’m going to have to find that powerpoint and figure out how to share it!

  9. Jenna · June 11, 2014

    Ha! that was great! How did you get him to wear the earplugs? For us, we have conflicting issues: 1 too much noise 2 can’t stand the feel of anything touching his face (ear plugs, head phones, sunglasses) been trying to figure this one out for a bit…

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 12, 2014

      Thanks. There wasn’t any great strategy that worked to get him to wear the earplugs – we just kept offering them and he finally decided that he could use his hands better if there was something else (besides his fingers) plugging his ears. Plus, he was probably getting a crick in his neck from holding one ear to his shoulder!

  10. akochkon · June 13, 2014

    I love hearing about this. And knowing we aren’t alone. Thanks for sharing.

  11. katinpa13 · June 21, 2014

    Did you ever try auditory integration?

    • stayquirkymyfriends · June 28, 2014

      Yes, we did – a couple different versions with an OT and some work with a chiropractic-neurologist. Some changes, maybe, but still a sound-sensitive kid!

  12. Mommy Catharsis · July 9, 2014

    Cool concept with the Sensory Blog Hop. I signed up to participate next month!

  13. Full Spectrum Mama · September 25, 2014

    Hey, where’d’ja go? More quirk!!!! ❤

    • stayquirkymyfriends · September 25, 2014

      Ah! I know! I’ve been trying to figure out a way to return gracefully….Life got a bit busy and it’s tough to get back in the groove. Still quirky around here, though! Thanks for the love, I’ll be back really soon… 🙂

  14. Pingback: Sounds Like Trouble | Stay Quirky, my friends

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