Sensory issues

We have a new music teacher at school. Beth has done choir for several years with a teacher who was very quietly spoken and Beth loved going. We didn’t have a music teacher as such before, our grade 1/2 teacher took music and Beth was familiar with her as she had been her teacher. Since getting a whole new building built at our school the old prep room has been turned into the music room. Our new teacher is a parent of 2 of the kids at school and Beth was familiar with her before. She is American and is a lovely enthusiastic woman. I anticipated that Beth would love music this year as the new teacher looks like she’s lots of fun. Unfortunately it’s gone the other way. Thursdays come around (music lesson time) and Beth is telling me how sick she is, more than usual in fact.

She first did this about 3 weeks ago and luckily she also stated that she didn’t want to do music that week, otherwise I wouldn’t have clicked. My ears pricked up as she’d told me the week before that she didn’t want to do choir anymore. I had thought it was because the choir had swelled to 50 kids, much higher than the 10 – 15 kids we had had last year. She said no, she didn’t like the new teacher’s voice. I asked if it was the accent and she said no, she just didn’t like it. Kids like Beth often have super sensitive senses and Beth’s particular one is sound. All of her anxieties relate to issues with sound and the issues snowball until she can no longer be in a room at certain times in case that sound happens again. She’s like it in the mornings when the bell rings. I think it’s the sound of the chairs being scraped off the tables but I’m not really sure. I think the music teacher has a certain pitch that Beth can’t handle. That compounded with an almost empty huge room which would have great acoustics. I can understand her issue. Two weeks ago I told her teacher and we decided to put head phones on Beth to see if it lessened the discomfort. It was reported that she had gone but had spent a lot of the time in the back corner.

Beth had an issue like this once before. When she was first diagnosed we went to an early intervention program at a local school. The lady that ran it had quite a deep voice and a booming laugh. Beth was ok to start with, she loved going there, but bit by bit it got to the stage where she wouldn’t let me leave and hated being there.  I don’t believe in letting kids dictate how we run our lives but if we weren’t getting any benefit out of the program, and it was physically affecting her, what was the point of going? Luckily we got a place at Irabina Early Intervention the next year so it didn’t look like I was ‘giving in’ to her.

I thought that the headphones would do the trick in music, she even told me that she had gone and enjoyed it. Or at least she had answered a monotonous ‘yes’ when I asked her! This week however she kept telling me that she had a rash and couldn’t go to school. When I looked and saw that she had scratched herself to make herself bleed I thought that no, it was much more stressful than I thought. I told her to wear her sunglasses and the headphones to music class. Donna Williams (the autistic author and artist) told me once that sunglasses may lessen the sensory issues. As we walked to class she told me that we were going in the wrong direction, the sick bay was the other way! I spoke with her teacher. I told him that we had been lucky, 7 years without this happening was such a bonus. It may have been different if it had been him she had a problem with but it was a teacher who she only had to see for 40 minutes each week. As it was her last year at school, was it worthwhile putting her through the stress? He was terrific and agreed, if she was actually hurting herself it wasn’t fair to put her in that situation. She could do one on one with her aide at that time doing some other work.

I don’t know what I would have done if it had happened with one of her main teachers. Being such a small school there’s often not much room for movement. In grade prep, 5 and now 6 it has been a straight grade instead of a composite, so there has been only one grade of that level. We’re so lucky that she’s not had issues with any of her teachers.

I just want to point out that there is nothing strange or unusual about our music teacher’s voice, nor about her. She’s a lovely lady and did not take offence at all about Beth’s issues. Also, Beth is by no means saying she doesn’t like this teacher, just that she can’t cope with her voice. I guess Beth has hearing sort of like a dog, she can hear pitches that others of us cannot hear. I don’t like certain sounds so I can only imagine how hard it would be to have issues with noise all the time. No wonder it’s hard for kids like Beth to concentrate at times when they can hear extra sounds or be anticipating these sounds happening. What a scary world it must be.

About Sarah

Mother of an autistic child wanting to write about my personal experiences
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