Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Operation Desensitization

with 13 comments

I want to preface this post by saying that while Pudding has sound sensitivities, or auditory processing dysfunction, it appears to be less of a problem for her than for others on the spectrum. I don’t know why she is only mildly affected, and others have it much worse than she does.  I only know that it can sometimes interfere with our daily life, and that makes it a problem for us.  One more thing, the attached video contains noise that those with sound sensitivity will not appreciate!  Please lower your volume before you play.

The object that I habitually refer to as a “hoover” may be known to you as a vacuum cleaner if you hail from anywhere other than Britain.  In fact, ours is not the brand Hoover, don’t think I’m on commission here!

I don’t know exactly when Pudding became afraid of the hoover, but by the time she was 2, she always made sure she was as far away as possible when it was turned on. It didn’t seem excessive for her age. Frankly, the process of cleaning is easier when a toddler is in another room anyway. She has a habit of cleaning windows and surfaces with baby wipes, so I never minded if she didn’t help.

At some point after her diagnosis, her fear spread to other low-frequency noises, such as blenders, extractor fans, lawnmowers and other gardening equipment. Her reactions worsened too, she took a lot more consoling. If we were at the park and somebody mowed their lawn, she had to be carried home. Not easy with a baby in tow.

Under her OT’s guidance, we began a home-based program of auditory integration. I’d say it has helped her a lot, though it hasn’t eliminated the problem altogether. She has learned to ask what is making an unsettling noise, and we are very fortunate that noisy places like restaurants don’t seem to bother her. Still, there remained the Hoover problem.  I got used to hoovering while she was at school, but it would wake Cubby from his nap, or we’d be out running errands and it wouldn’t get done. The carpet gets icky and sticky.  I feel like I can’t invite people around to the house, and when you’re trying to raise a social household, that is a tad problematic.

At home we try to do therapies which engage Pudding, but her school uses behavioral techniques with great success. I’m not surprised by this, when potty-training she would demand “potty for treat”, and using rewards is how our little used-car salesperson would get motivated. So I read up on what to do.

Although there is a sensory aspect to her dislike of the Hoover, I learned that I’d been unwittingly encouraging her aversion. When she got upset, I’d immediately stop, comfort her by reading to her or holding her while she played on my iPod.  If you are a smart 3 year-old, this translates into: if I scream, mummy will stop the noise, and give me lots of attention and affection.  And I get her my iPod, most coveted of all things.  If I don’t scream, the noise continues.  I think I’ll go with screaming.

I opted to reward her when she wasn’t screaming, whilst simultaneously desensitizing her to the hoover.  I was prepared for this to take some time.  I was not prepared for this to happen THE FIRST TIME we tried it:

Not sure who that harpy (such a hideous voice!) is talking to my daughter, but that is Pudding, adorned in her favourite Sleeping Beauty dress, hoovering like a pro.  Again, this is Pudding-hoovering!  Even as an eye-witness I need to keep replaying the evidence.

I’m trying to focus on the breakthrough, rather than the fact that we could have solved in 15 minutes an issue that has plagued us for almost two years.  I’ve subsequently managed to do the whole top floor, with her right next to me.  She turns it on and off, and lets me do it too.  I’m hoping that we can transfer this to other noises she dislikes.  Not to mention applying positive reinforcement to other areas of difficulty that aren’t inherently rewarding to her.

We’re going to go through a lot of treats before I figure out how to phase out rewards, but if she drops any, at least I’ll be able to hoover them up!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 25, 2010 at 8:00 am

13 Responses

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  1. yea! Love LOVE posts like this 🙂 Now, can she come to my house?


    August 25, 2010 at 9:22 am

    • As long as you have a stash of pink treats, she’ll be there! The downside, of course, is that I no longer have an excuse for my dirty floors. And Cubby just gets free candy out of the deal!


      August 25, 2010 at 9:54 am

  2. Lovely….we had problems with CAL and the hoover for ages. Now it just seems to be going to the pictures and loud parties. Oh the other thing that terrifies her is hand-dryers in public loo’s. My nephew Little *J has an obsession with hoovers, he is constantly talking about them and dismantling them. He is only 4, I can’t wait to see where this is heading. Thanks for the post, see ya Pudding, wave. X she is so adorable.


    August 25, 2010 at 11:43 am

    • Oh God, how did I forget public hand dryers! She loathes them, and every time someone uses one she scrambles up into my arms. Okay, I need to hang out in a public toilet with a bag of treats….no harm could come from that, right? 😉


      August 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      • LMHO….hanging around public toilet with a bag of treats, you’ll get arrested. I make CAL go to the loo and use the dryer in her favourite fast food place…no advertising here. Before we allow her to have her food. It seems to be working, also I’ve started to use a hair dryer on her hair which is helping a lot with the noise. We still have problems with the smell in public toilets, so she now carries a small spray perfume to spray down her top before she goes in. If she still can’t cope I let her pull her top over her nose. The SEN assistant at school is working with these things too.


        August 25, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    • Also, do you have sensory showings at the cinemas in the UK. We saw Toy Story 3 at one, and it was just fantastic. If they don’t do that, perhaps you could badger them into it- if she wants to go to the pictures. Too funny about Little J- perhaps one day he’ll invent a silent hoover for all our sound sensitive friends!


      August 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm

      • We have a very small cinema by our house that I think might go along with that, thanks for the idea. Oh, and little *J had his Birthday yesterday, he went to spend his Birthday money today…guess what??? Yes…. yet another hoover. The kid is obsessed…watch out Dyson, you got competition. lol. xxx


        August 25, 2010 at 2:17 pm

  3. Well done! Please send your cute little hoover operator to my flat!


    August 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm

  4. […] progress, regression, routines I’ve been writing recently about little bits of progress here and there that Pudding has been making.  I’m not entirely sure why this is happening, just […]

  5. […] we do it, it works.  Remember how easily she came around to vacuum cleaners?  I do.  Recently we went out to a restaurant.  Atypically for my atypical kid, Pudding LOVES […]

  6. I adore this post!! Pudding is so cute with the “hoover”! I think this may be a control issue as well. My son also will tolerate the vacuum if he is using it. That applies only at our house – he is still freaked out if a different vacuum is in use, like one in a hotel or at our office. I did not hear a “harpy” so I must’ve missed that part – only a very excited mummy!! 🙂

    Btw, I love your writing style and your replies to comments are so much fun!


    April 16, 2011 at 10:55 am

    • Thank you! Yes, the generalizing is the tough part. I’d say she is much better than she used to be. Last week she got off the bus and there were 8 different noisy machines in use by a landscaping team, and she didn’t freak out at all. Very different from a year ago. Helps if she knows what is making the sounds, I think.

      Spectrummy Mummy

      April 18, 2011 at 7:48 am

  7. […] was brought about by the arrival of a new vacuum cleaner for the house.  I was incredulous.  We’ve dealt with her fear of hoovers.  I’ve been able to vaccuum with her in the same room for a long time.  This was still new […]

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