Like most kids, my son can hear the crinkle of a candy wrapper or the quiet clink of the cookie jar lid from two rooms away.
The difference for my child is that he is almost always wearing earplugs, and still his parents can rarely sneak a snack without his sudden appearance in the kitchen. When I explain my son’s sound sensitivity to children (and not a few adults), I often use a Superman analogy. Just as Superman has super-hearing, this boy can hear minute details that others miss, and he’s hearing these otherwise-undetectable noises all the time. My kid’s earplugs help to muffle the millions of sounds his brain is trying to process, but he can still hear everything. I’ve recently noticed that my son uses his uncanny aural abilities to alert him to one thing that is even more motivating than cookies or hidden candy. This boy is insistent on arranging our household objects so that they remain in their “proper” positions. He is continually adjusting the items on our countertops, tables, and shelves—fixing things that are “out of place” and easing his anxiety by creating order in his visual field.
Now, it appears that tiny auditory clues alert him to things in his environment that need “fixing”—even when they are out of his view.
For example, my home office is next to his bedroom upstairs. I have a closet with two sliding doors. Much of the time, this closet stands open on the right-hand side, allowing for easy access to the shelves on that side. In my son’s mind—despite the fact that he never personally uses this room—my closet must always be open on the right-hand side. That’s the way the closet almost always looks, and so it forever shall be. When I close my closet door, or push the doors over to access the left-hand side, the sound of the sliding door warns my son of this unacceptable change. Invariably, my son will appear within a few moments to “fix” the door. Downstairs, our kitchen is separated from the living room by a wall that stretches the length of the kitchen. This is the wall we hide behind when opening the cookie jar. But the barrier does little to hinder our hyper-sensitive son from knowing exactly what is happening in the kitchen.
This happens on a daily basis: As I am cooking, my son enters the kitchen multiple times to close cabinets and drawers that I’ve left open. From the next room, he can hear that doors have been opened but not yet returned to their closed positions. That unfinished sound signals a visual disruption that must be repaired. This often happens as I am using the cabinets. I will admit, though, that I do have an annoying deficit in the ability to fully close doors. I tend to leave doors and drawers just slightly ajar. It’s my own sensory issue, I suppose, something about the sound or feel of the latch clicking or the wood butting against the frame. I have to make a very conscious effort to close a drawer, and my poor kid is constantly fixing my incomplete tasks.
Our cooperative action occurs with high frequency with the pantry door, which I am notorious for leaving open by just a smidge. The door touches the frame, but it is not fully closed. Whether he just knows my habit and comes in to check the door periodically, or if he can actually hear the door swinging toward closure without the final latch click, I’m not really sure. But it seems that I can get him off the couch by simply almost closing that pantry door. He walks directly to the pantry, pushes the door closed, checks that the light is off, and does a quick sweep of the rest of the kitchen to fix anything else that looks out of place. “Oh! Thanks for fixing that, honey. While you’re here, kid, unload the dishwasher, OK?”
There’s one more kitchen sound that triggers corrective action—the icemaker. Ninety percent of the time, the ice and water dispenser on the front of our refrigerator is set to dispense water. If you push the button to get ice, the unit will beep. After (or often while) you fill your glass with ice, my son will appear from around the corner to push the “water” button, returning the dispenser to its “proper” position, before going back to whatever he was doing in the other room.
Beep… [ice]… Beep. Every time.
I guess his hearing is like Superman’s. It’s almost as if he can see through walls.
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