Guest Blogs

Sensory Overload: “Loud Noises Make My Daughter Run for the Hills”

One mom applauds (quietly) as her hypersensitive teen learns how to manage her challenges with sounds.

“Lee, how was school today?”

She grabbed a granola bar from the kitchen and hurried toward her room.

“Don’t ask,” she called, slamming her door.

I gave her some time alone, then stuck my head in her room. “What happened?”

Frustration flashed in her eyes. “Why do pep rallies have to be in gyms? What are we—a bunch of cattle? When are they going to realize not every kid is made alike? I’m supposed to go and support my new school, but my friends who went said their eardrums broke!”

The gym was the worst place for Lee during a school assembly of any kind. When she was in choir in elementary school, her school joined two others and traveled to a high school to perform. As the concert started, the kids got excited, hundreds of kids stomping their feet and yelling. From the audience, I could see Lee’s face contort and her hands muffling her ears, eyes searching desperately for her mother. “Help!” she cried. I ran over to the bleachers, stuck her under my arm like a football, and ran to the nearest exit as fast as possible.

When Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, her pediatrician recommended she be tested for SPD, sensory processing disorder, which is commonly associated with ADHD. Her sense of sound, taste, and smell tested hypersensitive. So, it stood to reason that Lee couldn’t handle a deafening roar during a pep rally inside a gym any more than she could the screaming at a concert or the cheering at a football game.

“What’d you do instead of going to the gym?” I asked.

She sunk onto her bed, disappointment settling like a cloak around her. “Sat outside in the quad with some other kids.”

If an administrator or teacher saw her, I wondered if they would think she was just a defiant teen or quickly conclude that she was an apathetic student who hated her school?

But I knew my child. If someone stopped to ask Lee why she wasn’t in the pep rally, she’d tell him, “It’s too loud in there!” By paying close attention to her sensory needs, she was taking care of herself, coping with her differences the same way she coped by drawing when she couldn’t sit still. But accepting her needs didn’t mean it was easy to live with them.

I sat down next to her on the bed. “There are plenty of other ways you can support your school, honey.”

“Yeah, I was thinking of that, too. Like pajama day…”

“Much more fun than a rally. And what counts is that you warded off a meltdown in that gym.”

“True. I probably would have fainted.”

I nodded. It was no exaggeration. I gave her a hug and smoothed her long red hair away from her face. I felt the same way when she pulled herself up on the coffee table and stood on her chubby legs for the first time. I was on my feet clapping as she took a step and reached for a toy, unaware of her milestone.

I knew many more hurdles lie ahead in high school, but today I was clapping again for the little girl who took another big step.