How do you get a noisy autistic kid to become a quiet autistic kid? Where is the “off button”?
N is a walking one man band. Or perhaps a “one man choir” is a more apt description. He is constantly making random sounds: sliding his singsong voice up and down the scales, uttering piercing high pitched shrieks, repeating his favorite word “NO” in as many different tones and volumes as possible. Nick Noise goes on most of the day, from the minute the sun peaks above our rooftop horizon until it finally drops behind another rooftop horizon at night. It entertains him, and more importantly, it helps filter out other sounds which he seems to have trouble processing. We have learned over the years to “tune him out” for our sanity sake. However I admit that sometimes it gets on my nerves, particularly if I am a bit more stressed than usual, or having a bad day otherwise.
When we are out Nick Noise is definitely the source of unwanted public attention. The questionning stares are another thing that we have to “tune out”. I understand Nick Noise disturbes people who are unaccustomed to verbal stimming. Sounds do invite our attention. Sounds can assault our personal comfort zone. Sounds can be invasive: I am sure our neighbors don’t appreciate the occasional weekend wake up by the autistic rooster that lives next door.
How do we get it to stop? There is no off button, I have looked for it for 10 years. I am told that consistent and repeated reinforcing of successful quietness is the best way to modify behaviour. “WOW I LOVE HOW QUIET YOU ARE!!!” We have tried that. The school tried a program for him to reduce the noises that included attention, praise and food rewards for quietness. Why have our interventions NOT worked? The problem is motivation. There is little more rewarding to N in the universe than to hear the sound of his own voice. It is hard to reinforce sucessful quietness, when that reinforcement is not as desireable as the behaviour it addresses. And, as well as being intrinsically rewarding, it is a coping mechanism for him.
Nick Noise is the biggest “external” that makes him noticably handicapped. Otherwise he looks completely “normal”. It is when he opens his mouth that it is apparent he is not normal. I use the terms “normal” and “handicapped” without attaching judgement. For his sake, and also for mine, I freely admit, I do feel motivated to change him. I do feel anxiety around his verbal behaviour, especially when we are out in a public place. In this context, I admit to considering the use of duct tape!! Inside the house, I would like some peace and quiet, sometimes. But without his cooperation, or without a suitable replacement behaviour, it is a steep uphill climb.
At the same time, as time goes on, I question more and more the idea of wanting to change him, and wanting to make him “normal”. That includes even annoying behaviours, even the Nick Noise. I don’t want to either “give in” or “give up”; but also I do want another kind of peace, the peace inside me of acceptance.
N is completely innocent, he does not know that his noises are “weird” or “bothersome”. He is who he is, he does not deceive, he does not betray others, he does not put on airs. He is 100% genuine. Thinking about it from that perspective, it places Nick Noises in a different context entirely. They are simply another manifestation of his genuine-ness. Maybe I should let him be and just invest in quality ear plugs.