The “Sensory Overload” Phenomena / Misinterpretations

Out of the laundry list of “complaints”  about Asperger behavior by “neurotypicals” is that we’re “overly-sensitive” to certain environmental conditions; despite the fact that sense organs and the brain and nervous system ARE PHYSICAL OBJECTS. The modern social medical and psychological communities persist in “muddling” the topic with “supernatural” ideas about how the human body works.

Sensory sensitivity and reactions to sensory overload precipitate the need for Asperger types to flee complex artificial environments. It’s physical:

Sensory sensitivities are physical and produce physical reactions. Asperger individuals react in similar ways to artificial environments, but each person reacts to varying degrees. These reactions are “automatic” – not “created by the person in order to cause neurotypicals discomfort.

When our specific “senses” are assaulted by sounds, smells, chemicals, toxins or light (usually artificial – manmade) we instinctively retreat if possible to a dark and / or quiet place; if trapped we “shutdown” (block sensory input as an attempt to reduce the stimulation). Many “therapists” try total immersion, that is, exposing the Asperger child or adult to intolerable types and levels of stimulation for increasing periods of time, in order to “desensitize” the person to sensory overstimulation. Often this is forced upon Aspergers and autistics as “treatment.” Exposure reportedly helps some people, but we’re talking about increasing tolerance by minutes, and not a “cure.”

poke-pngn-guide-toA poke in the eye is not supposed to feel good.

Anecdotal emphasis by those diagnosed Asperger, reveals that sensory assault is the trigger for other Asperger “symptoms” – that is, social and work problems are the result of sensory sensitivity to noise, lighting conditions, chaotic human activity, and lack of consistency in workplace behavior and communication between workers, bosses and hierarchical social agendas.  

Social difficulties are the result of the special perception and processing that is inherent in the Asperger brain, compounded by toxic modern environments – which are populated by “domesticated” modern social humans.   

While “too bright and flickering lights” (fluorescent) are a big complaint, as well as polluted indoor and outdoor air; artificial fabrics and other materials, plus chemical odors that result in headaches and sinus and respiratory problems; a very common and direct  trigger of sensory pain is  sound.

This sound problem can be broken down into parts: The inability to block out background sound, like someone whistling or coughing, the humming or buzzing of a machine, a low-volume radio, “constant babbling or gossiping,” “terrible music,” or ever-present street noise. Many Asperger people say that the problem created by this type of noise is that it interferes with their ability to focus on tasks. Work environments are particularly generative of distractions that can’t be removed. At home, irritating sounds, smells, lights and other conditions can be limited, but rarely totally eliminated. Running away to one’s room, shutting the door and turning down lights, is a classic means of dealing with sensory overload. For me, it’s also fleeing to the wilderness that surrounds my town and releasing stress to the vast unpopulated desert.

The Asperger problem with persistent and information-less background sound introduces questions: The “fuzzy” and subjective current methods of diagnosis label these physical phenomena as “developmental disabilities” in a “sloppy” analysis of the traits said to indicate Asperger Disorder. The inability to block out the cacophony of sounds that swamp the neurotypical environment and to “enjoy human social noise” would rather indicate a “type” of human that is more attuned physically to their environment; not “lacking” but “extra sensory” – not in the hooky-spooky supernatural sense, but adapted to natural environments in which being acutely sensory-aware is a survival necessity.

As an Asperger who does experience severe negative reactions (pain) to some types of sound, my question is, In which environments is this awareness of a wider range of sound be adaptive? Distant sound, even at a very low level, would seem to be important to Asperger knowledge of the environment.


If I were to use a picture to characterize this relationship to sound, it would be a deer  swiveling its radar dish ears to identify the direction, distance and origin of the sound. Many animals, especially prey, can identify the “mood or intent” of an animal predator, distinguishing its hunting mode from a benign state. If benign, prey will ignore the predator nearby or “stand by” until it detects a change. If prey were always to run when aware of danger, they would soon be exhausted. In natural environments, instances of alarm and flight END with the cessation of the threat, but in the human environment, sensory inputs are persistent and relentless and to an Asperger. I would suggest that the more “wild” and significantly less-domesticated Asperger brain expects, like the deer, that alarm-inducing sounds (including alarm by other species) will stop, but in modern human environments, the sounds don’t abate; the sensory signs of danger never end and the Asperger nervous system is almost constantly alert.

The modern social brain has adapted (been down-selected) to human-created chaos; the Asperger brain has not. Modern humans conform not only to  conventional social behavior, but to long periods of subjection to unhealthy working  and living conditions. Not only Asperger types but Neurotypicals suffer from severe stress that has become the “normal” condition of Homo sapiens ONLY RECENTLY: sound pollution is a product of the Industrial Revolution.


“Living with Extreme Sound Sensitivity”

“If you feel disgusted to the point of rage when you hear the sound of chewing, swallowing, breathing, throat-clearing and other common “people” noises, you’re not alone. You’re also not crazy. Misophonia is a sound sensitivity disorder, which makes certain noises intolerable to the sufferer.” (It has a name, and also affects non-ASD humans)

“Although this condition is primarily neurological, the experience of these sounds can cause psychological (social) distress. The term misophonia was developed by Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, American neuroscientists. Literally translated, it means ‘hatred of sounds.’” (Even the “name” conveys pejorative insinuations – we don’t hate sounds; we AUTOMATICALLY experience PAIN when exposed to specific types of sound. 

“This condition usually develops when a child is just entering into his or her tween years, although it can develop earlier in life. The affected child will often feel a frightening and uncontrollable urge either to strike the person making the noises or run away with hands over ears. Alternatively, some will mimic the sounds of the chewer in an attempt to cover up the noise or to communicate in a nonverbal way how horrible the sound is to them. This reaction is called ‘echolalia’ and is also quite common among those on the autistic spectrum.” (ASD “weird” behavior is often a reaction to neurotypical “weird behavior”.

“One of the primary difficulties of living with this disorder is others’ reactions. Those who do not have any hypersensitivity to sound simply cannot imagine how their chewing and swallowing noises (and other incredible rudeness, including out-of-control children) can be so disgusting to another person. Often, protests from the sufferer are misinterpreted as passive-aggressive personal attacks or simply not believed at all.” (You’ve got this correct!)

“Although misophonia is thought of as a relatively rare disorder, those with other neurological and sensory processing disorders often struggle with this condition.” Conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and ADHD FIX  causing the patient’s brain to misinterpret information taken in by their senses. These disorders often cause a misinterpretation of social cues, smell, visual cues, touch, balance, hearing, sense of time, space, and movement.” Here we go! This is all about social conformity, not about a physical condition. Domesticated (juvenalized-narcissistic) modern humans are annoyed by any person whose behavior or situation differs in the least from their expectation. Ask any individual utilizing a wheelchair or other device how bizarrely neurotypicals behave in the presence of a disabled person. 

The insistent drum beat that our sensory systems are “broken” is the default social judgement, when the evidence points to an individual sensory experience that may simply fall outside a “typical” range – and instead of being atypical, our experiences are defined as pathologies. “Misinterpret” implies that there is one “correct interpretation of sensory input that every human being must duplicate, when EACH PERSON experiences his or her own sensory “universe.” There is no “perfectly normal” sensory system outside of the word-illusions created by doctrinaire humans (esp. psychologists).

“This sensory information can cause either a hypersensitive or hyposensitive response to various stimuli. In other words, the patient may hear or feel things much more or much less intensely than those with a neurotypical brain.” (His usage!)

It is entirely possible that the reverse is true; modern social humans have diminished sensory abilities due to domestication / neoteny. And it is well-known that human hearing is damaged by the incredible noise pollution in modern environments.

“Although there is no cure for sound sensitivity, there are various techniques as well as some dietary and lifestyle modifications that can help dial back the symptoms of misophonia so it does not interfere so severely with everyday life.

Tinnitus retraining therapy. …tinnitus retraining therapy was developed for those who live with tinnitus, misophonia, and hyperacusis. A combination of counseling and desensitization therapy with low-level broad-band noise aims to reclassify intolerable sounds to more neutral signals. This training helps to weaken the neuronal activity associated with the fight-or-flight response these noises often produce.” (That is, impair one’s sensory abilities in order to tolerate harmful environments. )

Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a technique designed to rewire the brain through the use of intense psychotherapy aimed at treating one specific problem. The specialist helps the patient go deep within to understand the specific emotions certain sounds produce and so they can gain control over automatic response. Over time, this helps desensitize the patient to formally rage-inducing sounds. (Note that for AS children, this requires “damaging” the sensory system that is native to us: we are not adapted to extreme artificial sounds and sound levels that are common to modern environments; sirens, “beep-beeping” machinery; repetitive and shrill  noise, and also, near infrasound “boom” box speakers. Nor the “social shrieks” of hyper-emotional people and of people constantly fighting, arguing, and screaming at each other. )

Occupational therapy. Those with sensory processing disorders often find occupational therapy beneficial. This approach helps a person’s neurological system integrate his or her senses so he or she can more appropriately process information. (Again, the opinion is that our processing isn’t “different,” it’s wrong.) For example, an occupational therapist might have a person who is hypersensitive to certain noises gradually experience a wide variety of noises, including the offensive ones, to help their brains get used to and eventually dismiss them. (Does anyone see this “treatment” as similar to torture tactics used on political and military prisoners?) These sounds are altered as needed to ensure the experiences are positive and within the patient’s comfort zone. (How reassuring!)

Psychotherapeutic hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy with a certified hypnotherapist can help ease the symptoms of misophonia through the proven power of suggestion. Many individuals have been able to successfully overcome phobias and addictions through this method. (So sensory sensitivity is classed with phobias and addictions?)

Misophonia, while rare, is a real neurological condition. You haven’t lost your mind. If you hate the sound of chewing and other common noises to the point of frenzy, there is real help and validation out there. Talk with a trusted medical professional about the therapeutic techniques mentioned above. They may help you better integrate your senses and help you enjoy the world around you.

We see again the “blindness” of neurotypicals to perfectly valid variation in human physiology: psychology: The pressure is always for human beings to “warp” their “psychology” to satisfy neurotypical demands; to “tolerate” living and working conditions that are terribly unhealthy for ALL humans.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: