Noise sensitivity is a common part of autism.
Lots of people know we can be sensitive to sound.
Yet one of the less talked about autistic traits is hyperempathy. Since autistic people communicate differently, we’re often branded as cold, mean, and/or lacking empathy; but in truth, we may struggle with alexithymia, or difficulty “putting our finger on” the pulse of an emotion. Meanwhile, our sensory sensitivity is opening like a wormhole, letting a funnel of unreadable feelings in.
From my experience, when I can’t decipher my feelings right away, it’s because I’m feeling so much empathy in a stressful situation—or such intense emotion in a high-energy room—it’s blinding; it’s like stepping from shadows into summer sunlight. Or, if you’d rather a winter-based metaphor: it’s like the sun flipping you off with its glare on fresh-white snow.
I bring up these observations side-by-side because, I believe, auditory sensitivity and hyperempathy have Voltroned in the back of my head—resulting in sensitivity to tone of voice. Which is ironic, given my tonal control needs improvement.
In 2019, I feel I need to clarify:
When I say “sensitivity to tone of voice,” I don’t mean tone policing a person’s word choice and/or “niceness” until they pass Becky’s approval.
I mean the edges we place—volume; pitch; oomph—that might turn up the decibel of a person’s voice. I’m unbearably sensitive to that auditory layer of human communication.
I’ve found breathing helps me control my tone. I’m still a work-in-progress, though. I worry less about oppressive etiquette, and more about the musical layer beneath my sentences. Meditation helps. Reading fiction helps.
This is one of those instances where autistic people may be the canary in the coal mine. I don’t think anyone likes to hear a sharp tone of voice; but in my case, it sends my amygdalae into fight-flight. It pumps cortisol into my blood. It makes me sweat while standing still. With noise sensitivity and hyperempathy, auditory-based anxiety becomes contagious.
Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. Visit Kourtnie.net to read her dev blog or fey.earth to try out her games and stories.