I have worked with children who begin to cry at the very moment that they see their Dad walk past with the cordless drill under one arm and a hammer in the other.
They know! They anticipate!
Most of them say both.
These children "know" that each time the drill starts up that their bodies will react with spastic muscle tone shooting through their limbs. The anticipation of the noise scares the daylights out of some of them and then the noise itself causes them to almost fall off their seats.
This spasticity is very real and can also momentarily cause pain. It almost always needs several minutes for the limbs to relax again.
Many of these children worry that in such situations they will not be able to "work“ as well as they wish to, and this is often the cause of tears.
Why are some children, and adults, more sensitive to loud and sudden noise than others? Can we teach our bodies to react differentl? Can we learn to ignore the noise or the reactions? What can we learn? Can we learn to react differently or can we learn how to react to our reactions?
When I first moved into my flat in the city I would lie awake most of the night listening to the constant noise of the sirens of ambulances and emergency doctors passing to and from the hospital that is just round the corner. I wondered whether I had done the right thing with my move into the city, but I was reassured by the knowledge that I had lived all my childhood with the rumble of trains or the rush of the tide outside my window, and that I had grown used to it, even to enjoy it.
I was right not to worry. I very soon got used to it, although I cannot say that I enjoy it, just like the children with their spasticity do not enjoy it either, however used to it they get.
It was remarkable how quickly I could change my reactions to the things that went bump, and the sirens that wailed, in the night.
By deciding that I could not afford the loss of sleep that was caused by jerking awake throughout the night I changed my reactions. I leant how to sleep on, through the sirens. I still hear them but I do not let them disturb me so much.
As with all kinds of learning this took time and patience, trial and error. I still do not always manage not to hear the sirens, but I know how to get back to sleep before the next one comes along.
Some children and adults who I work with are able to learn ways to change their reactions to sudden noise, some of them just learn live with it. They can ignore the banging of a door and the crashing of a saucepan. Some families try to be adaptive and remain quiet, whereas others go about life with the normal clatter.
We all have different noise thresholds and I think that even children with extreme spasticity in their limbs can teach their bodies to react more positively, or at least less negatively.
Positive use of noise
We all use music in our lives as a positive source of noise, although I know many people who let the radio run all day long and this for me then turns music into negative noise.
In my flat I have a door-harp
This is one of the most positive uses of noise that I have ever come across.
My door harp was a given to me as a present on my first Christmas in Germany. I wonder now if it was given to me as a reminder to shut the inner front door of our very drafty sandstone house, as this is where it always hung.
A door harp is a hollow, wooden sound box with horizontal strings tautly spanned between nails. Hanging vertically on nylon strings of different lengths are wooden beads. The length of these hanging beads are such that one falls on each of the horizontal strings. As the door is gently shut the harp plays a sweet melody!
The only other place that I have ever seen a door harp is in a Kindergarten group, deliberately placed on a much-used door to encourage children to shut it slowly and carefully and not to slam it. Put there to encourage the children to listen out for and recognise the atmosphere that they are creating as they open and close doors!
A lovely, positive use of noise.
My door harp is now placed on my bathroom door, the only door in my flat that gets shut regularly. I placed it here so when I hear it playing softly when I get up in the night I have the feeling that I am not alone.
That’s my door harp in the photograph at the top. Since Christmas it has the addition of the word “shed” hanging from it.
Yes. I did say that it is on my bathroom door and that is the bathroom door. But as the bathroom is almost as big as the bedroom I decided when I moved in that, as I don’t have a garden, I would put the contents of my shed in the bathroom. There is no room for the "shed" in the bedroom as my "den" and library take up any spare space there!
The bathroom-shed works well. Really it is a lot better than having a shed in the garden, especially as in the cold winter months I don’t have to go outside to find a hammer, a spare Christmas tree light bulb, or a new pad of watercolour paper. I find all this and much more in my bathroom-shed, the room with a door harp.