One size doesn’t fit all – my problem with noise-cancelling headphones

You struggle with loud places or sensory sensitivity? No worries! Get yourself some noies-cancelling headphones.

But for me that’s the worst possible thing to do.

Without being able to see, that takes away the noise, sure, but it also takes away the main sense that I use for communicating or getting information to understand the world around me.

It’s like saying to a normally-sighted person “if the bright lights are bothering you, blindfold yourself completely”. Then good luck and just carry on as normal. You can’t!

The only time I can use something to completely block out the sound is perhaps with ear plugs, when the rainwater dripping on some random stuff in next door’s garden is driving me crazy and waking me up. That’s ok. I don’t need my ears in the night time, and I know that my alarm clock is loud enough to wake me up, even with the ear plugs.

I know that noise-cancelling headphones work for some people, and that’s great. But with any kind of difference or problem to solve, we have to be smarter about finding solutions, because one popular solution won’t work for everyone. And sometimes people have more than one thing going on.

This is one of the reasons why I locked horns with specialists in secondary education. I need to read things and write them down myself if I’m going to learn them. I don’t care how many blind people you know worked well with audio materials – I don’t! Audio books for pleasure – no problem. Audio texts for learning information are not so good when you don’t learn best that way.

As a teacher I try to be really aware of people’s differences.I know that what works for some of my students won’t work for others.

When I managed staff, I tried to do it as well. Treat everyone fairly, but don’t treat everyone the same, because different staff members will need different support from you as a manager.

We hear all kinds of things about the need for inclusivity and diversity, and I agree that these things are important. But what we often miss is the need to accept that sometimes you have to go through a bunch of different solutions before you find the right one for someone.

Awareness about different needs is great, but everyone is different. Not everyone with noise issues is like me – some people are hyposensitive to noise, which is the opposite to my problem and they may not be aware of loud sounds, especially when they are making them.

Sensory differences are not just about sound either – there is also sight, smell, taste, touch, balance (including the need to move to get sensory input, or difficulties related to balance), and proprioception (where are bodies are in space and this relates to spacial awareness, motor skills etc).

People might be over-sensitive in some areas, and undersensitive, or seeking stimulation, in others. Two people that are oversensitive to the texture of objects or clothing may not have issues with the same fabrics. The same goes for seeking sensory input – what works for one person to give them the input that they need might not help someone else. People are amazing and unique.

Which brings me back to the headphones, which I can’t use when I’m out! Feeling vulnerable because you’re completely oblivious to the world around you is for me just as bad as the original problem!

Sometimes for me, avoidance is a good strategy. I just don’t put myself in situations now and pretend that they’re going to be fun, when I know they really aren’t.

Honesty – it doesn’t mean you need to tell everyone, but the people closest to you probably want to help. They can’t do that if they don’t know what’s wrong.My partner has got good at predicting when I’m not going to be ok with excess noise, but I don’t expect him to be a mind reader.

Breaks – if I’m feeling sensory overload coming on and don’t want to or can’t just go home, I try to find a way to find somewhere a bit quieter, or go outside.A walk in the garden at a noisy wedding venue. A lounge at an airport (I know this is more expensive, but if you have a long wait, it can be worth it if you can afford to do it).

Exit strategy – plan how you’re going to leave somewhere, and don’t rely too much on others who may want to stay longer than you do. If you are offered a lift, great – but how can you get home in some other way if you’ve had as much sensory stimulation as you can take and nobody else wants to leave yet?

Signing – this is more tied in with my bllindness, and the fact that I can’t lip read in loud places. I already knew deafblind sign language because a friend taught me when I was younger. S is now learning too, so that we can communicate with one another, even when it’s loud.

Be kind – to yourself! I used to feel as though I had something to prove. I can do anything if I set my mind to it. But there is a cost to that, which usually involves me having to be somewhere quiet and alone the next day. Is it worth it? Often it isn’t. And people who genuinely care about you wouldn’t want you to put yourself through that.

There are times when I still put myself in situations that I know I will find overwhelming because of too much sensory input. Maybe it’s a special occasion that I don’t want to miss. Maybe it’s an exhibition or something that I find interesting, but that I know will cost me in terms of social energy and sensory stimulation. But now it’s more of an informed choice than an “I-can-do-anything-and-will-just-power-through-however-bad-I-feel” decision.

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Author: englishwithkirsty

I have two blogs. Unseen Beauty is my personal blog. English with Kirsty is my business blog for people who are interested in languages or learning English.

4 thoughts on “One size doesn’t fit all – my problem with noise-cancelling headphones”

  1. This is such a fabulous post Kirsty, as, I imagine like many, I had never thought about this. I love how you teach me something, always. I think we are better at inclusivity, but we do still try to pop everyone in the same bracket. Educating people and letting people know our own experiences is key. xx

    1. I’m only really learning about this stuff myself as an adult, and why I do the things that I do. My plan was to try and be a bit more honest on the blog so that people could get to know me, and not just the skincare or other products I’m into at the moment. And raising awareness is important too, because when you don’t experience something, you just don’t think about it. I think that goes for all of us. Thanks for your comment xx

  2. This is so much more than the headphones, you’ve raised some incredibly good points. And this is why you’re so empathic and open-minded, why you’re a great friend/blogger/teacher because “As a teacher I try to be really aware of people’s differences.” x

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