As an Autistic, I Can Hear Things That Others Cannot
I live in an apartment complex that has its apartment buildings situated relatively close together. I typically like to sit out on my porch and look at the mountains as I write.
One afternoon though, I noticed a high pitched squealing noise. It was ever so faint. So faint that I wondered if it was another aberration of my tinnitus. I’ve been struggling with my ears ringing for almost a year now and I thought maybe this was just another kind of ringing.
But as I moved my head around, I could tell it was coming from a location. As I took my dog on a walk, I listened for where it was coming from. I finally pinpointed an apartment.
Since I couldn’t notice the noise when inside my home, I decided to give it some time to see if it went away. I also secretly hoped that someone else would do something about it.
After three days though, I couldn’t take it any longer. I seized my opportunity as I walked by and noticed the apartment door was open. I asked the man inside if he noticed the high pitch ringing. He said no.
I then calmly said, “Oh, well I’m autistic and I can hear things that most people cannot, and there is definitely a ringing coming from your apartment.” This man was nice enough to take me seriously and immediately started unplugging items in his home. With every item he unplugged he’d ask, “Was it that?”
“Nope. No, not that either.”
Then suddenly, “Wait! It just stopped.”
It turns out it was a bug repeller he bought and plugged into the socket. It emits a high frequency to repel bugs. Most people cannot hear it, but I absolutely can.
Luckily this man was kind enough to leave it unplugged. Seldom does someone believe me like he does.
My entire life I’ve been hearing things that others cannot. I’m always asking, “Did you hear that?” and am met with blank stares.
I hear things so well that it can make it challenging to hear in a crowded space. For example, I have a hard time hearing my friend across the
table in a noisy restaurant.
It was experiences like this that made me wonder what was wrong with my hearing. Was I losing my hearing? Was something wrong?
I went to the audiologist in my 20's, only to learn I hear far better than the average person. They provided no explanation for why I could sometimes hear very well and sometimes barely at all.
It wasn’t until I learned I’m autistic that it all began to make sense. I realized that my highly sensitive hearing meant I heard EVERYTHING and that sometimes my brain couldn’t discern what was more important. Thus, sometimes I will hear background machinery better than the person sitting in front of me.
Polyvagal theory suggests that when the nervous system is activated (which is the case for autistics), the brain signals the middle ear that it needs to listen more. The middle ear is what picks up on different frequencies, like that of machinery. It is not as attuned to human voices. This is one possible theory of why some autistics are bothered by noises generated by refrigerators, AC units, and the like.
I can even hear a noise emitted from fluorescent lighting.
Last year, at the age of 37, I went for another hearing test, hoping to find answers for my tinnitus. I asked the audiologist if she could turn off the fluorescent lighting because it was impacting my ability to hear. She said, “It’s not making a noise, it won’t make a difference.”
I calmly explained, “I’m autistic, and I can hear the noise it is making very well and it will impact how I do on the test.”
She looked at me and said, “It won’t make a difference, but you can get up and turn off the light.”
I was upset by her dismissive reaction, but I did get up and turn off the light. The minute I did, the noise stopped.
This is what life is like when you can hear things that others cannot. Sometimes others believe you and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re kind to you, and sometimes they’re not.
Sometimes it would cause me to question my reality. Now that I know I’m autistic though, I don’t doubt it for a second.
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