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!