A black person with feminine presentation is in a yellow shirt with medium hair wearing headphones and singing to themselves with their arms over their head

The Miracle of Assistive Technology for Auditory Processing Problems in Public

This is a photo of me (pale skinned, mixed race, nonbinary human with short teal and green hair with shaved sides showing my natural hair color of black) sitting in a noisy bar, and smiling because I’m actually enjoying myself.

One of my biggest struggles, as an Autistic Person with Sensory Processing Differences, is often the modern indoor sensory environment (especially places where many humans tend to gather under one roof).

Before I knew I was Autistic, I would find myself in these places, feeling extremely agitated and overwhelmed but not realizing this feeling was sensory overload, and my flight/fight response being triggered.

I hear well… I hear everything… All at the same volume….

Refrigerators, ACs, and lights humming, people talking, phones ringing, plates and glasses clinking.

The sounds pile up, drowning my brain and I cannot process everything coming at me all at once.

It’s all constantly draining on me (unless I block it out, listen to music, sing/talk to myself, run into nature, or do some intense physical activity/move around to distract myself).

My brain doesn’t prioritize words or filter sounds out very well.

I also struggle to process and filter sounds from words. I often mishear words or my brain skips them.

This was a problem in elementary school onward, and also continued in the workplace, and my social life.

Even in an ideal environment (one to one with no background noise like TVs or fans) I am often unable to process what I’m hearing correctly, as my brain jumbles words on the way in, leaving me searching for content clues to find out what was said.

In loud bars and restaurants, this makes it hard for me to moderate my own voice.

Normally (without noise canceling headphones) understanding other people in busy environment would be impossible.

This past weekend, I sat my happy vaccinated Autistic ass in a bar, and had a drink and some queso with my noise canceling headphones on – no music just noise canceling.

Before that I had experienced noise canceling headphones in an airport – which was fantastic, but I hadn’t tried to engage with other people much with them on.

This time, using sensory protection gear in a louder social environment, I noticed the following:

1. All the extra background noise was GREATLY minimized, which allowed me to be happier and relaxed.

2. I was able to hear the conversation at my table and the TV we were watching in the bar with my headphones on and noise canceling activated.

3. I still can’t moderate my voice very well regardless if I have headphones or not.

4. I might like going to bars if I have noise canceling headphones. Wow!

5. These are nicer ones that were given to me, however I had cheap ones before and really enjoyed them in the airport environment. There’s no need to get the most expensive headphones – but realize you may use them a lot if you’d like them.

Hope this helps anyone dealing with similar sensory issues.

– Lyric


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3 thoughts on “The Miracle of Assistive Technology for Auditory Processing Problems in Public

  1. Do the Apple AirPods Pro hurt the inside of your ears? I can wear regular Apple AirPods without issue, but it pains me to have the Pro version in my ears for more than 20 minutes.

    I have a similar issue with over-ear noise canceling headphones; my jaw and head begin to hurt from the clamping pressure. I dream of a day when there are noise cancelling solutions that don’t cause me other sensory issues! 😭️

    A new feature coming to iOS 15 in the fall is “Conversation Boost” which will use the beam-forming microphones to focus on the person speaking in front of you with settings that allow adjusting the ambient background noise. I am excited to see if that can improve anyone’s sensory challenges when trying to converse with others!

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