Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Coughs have consequences...

So our logic is starting to be turned back on us. It's thrilling, but a little confronting at the same time.

Today, as we were driving to school, I had to cough.

It may seem strange to some people, but coughing is not encouraged in this house. At least, not by Billy. He is very articulate about the fact that a cough is like being hit on the inside of the head to him. It's the pinnacle of horrible in his life - a surprise, loud, sudden, generally high pitched. Sneezes are also not loved. Sudden (pretentious, unusual) laughs are frowned on as well.

Hyperacusis is at the centre of Billy's struggles with the 'real world'. He feels sound, as well as hears it at a vastly amplified volume. It's a rare sound that's pleasurable, but if it can be consciously managed with a volume control and/or things like headphones, hats or hoods... it's less feared. The management of the hyperacusis has a behavioural component, but the reality of it is very much biological/neurological. It's real. It's realer than real.

For Billy, it influences just about every aspect of his life.

His motor skills (compromised vestibular awareness and management make balance and proprioception a real challenge... this is what makes the ball catching and bike pedaling an ongoing PITA).

His learning (try focussing on what one person is saying, when all the noise in the room from rustling leaves outside the window to kids laughing beside you is coming in at a massively amplified level).

His social skills (it's hard to get a handle on a new 'friend' when you have no idea if they are going to squeal, scream or introduce an even more unpredictable baby sibling).

I've picked one simple example in each of those areas, but I could go on for days. I have such admiration for this boy. He takes steps forward every day of his life, despite the fact that each one of those steps is the equivalent of a mountain climb for one of his NT peers.

It's not just about the immediate impact of the sound either. A nasty auditory encounter can impact on the next hours, days or years.

Consider the fact that Billy will not get any closer to an indoor swimming pool than the doorway. He will watch his peers swim, but after indoor swimming lessons at 10 months old, he learned that indoor swimming pools were auditory hell. He says he's never going in to one again, even when he's a big man.  Fair enough.

Similarly, he has learned that certain people and creatures are not reliable companions on the basis of their noise output. I can't name the people for fear of destroying ongoing relationships, but roosters are never to be trusted.

This morning, pre-car cough, I coughed at home. Billy was just waking up. He woke in tears, asking to see his Dad, and that I made myself scarce. Even me, the spare brain... the back up, is not immune from rejection when it comes to sound. Lucky he-who-thinks-blogs-are-stupid was still home with a big warm hug at the ready.

So, when I coughed in the car, his sensory fuel tank was already half full. He was on the alert. From the back seat, his voice rang out loud and clear.

'Mummy, coughs have consequences! I need you to stop making that noise.'

I tried to explain that people have to cough sometimes. I have needs too, blah, blah, blah. Billy's response?

'Please drink water instead, Mummy. That will help your cough, and my ears won't hurt.'

Not a bad solution, really.

Did I mention I think he's pretty impressive?

And in a quick post-script, thank you to hippy school for introducing Billy and us to the skills of conflict resolution that allow him to understand and frame all of our needs so very beautifully. 


jess said...

Oh, sister. I hear ya. We live in dread of coughs too. Allergy season is hell! I love that he had a solution! Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Very cute Valerie and when you think about it very smart :) to cough is to spread germs

Anonymous said...

What about when he has to cough, or it that okay because he's prepared for that? And what does "Coughs have consequences mean? Is that an adaptation of a script?
I've heard about the not liking coughs and sneezes thing. It mush be hard to suppress them. My kids used to be very concerned when I sneezed or coughed. They asked if I was all right and they seemed worried about me. I guess it was because I'm the non-allergy member of the household and for me to sneeze they thought something really bad must be happening.
Now they don't seem concerned about my well being when I cough but my sons taunt me that I "sneeze funny"