Headphones

If you’ve seen a piece of media set in the present day which features an autistic character, chances are they’ll be wearing a pair of large, ear covering headphones. And while there are a lot of things shows and movies nowadays get wrong about autism, this is actually one of the things they get right. As some of you may or may not know, people on the autism spectrum tend to be very sensitive to outside stimuli and can often experience sensory overload as a result. Mostly (as far as I’ve observed), those on the spectrum tend to be the most sensitive to load noises, which can make certain experiences such as going to a party, school or even a play overwhelming. To alleviate this, lots of aspies and others on the spectrum wear noise cancelling headphones in order to soften the outside noises and attempt to function in society. Speaking for myself, while I don’t have any problem with loud noises in general, I do have a problem with sudden, unexpected noises, loud or not (which is part of the reason why I hate horror movies that rely heavily on jump scares with loud orchestra stings). Whenever I do hear such a noise, I have a tendency to jump and let out a little shriek, which usually makes those around me look at me funny. Also, this isn’t something that solely plagued me in my youth; it still haunts me to this day. So while I don’t need them to function in my everyday life, I do in fact own a pair of noise canceling headphones. I’ve found them to be a great help especially in work, because although I love my coworkers dearly and love engaging with them more than anything, I find that if I wear the headphones when I’m distracted by whatever’s happening around me, I can better focus on the job at hand. Besides work, I’ve also worn them to and from places in town like the gym, which has actually caused me a few problems. I mentioned earlier that noise canceling headphones are a hallmark of autism, but another, more negative stereotype of those on the spectrum is that we are rude, awkward and antisocial. This image is not helped by the presence of the headphones, as they are literally designed to drown out the outside world, and this includes other people. Thus, a common belief held by neurotypicals (those not on the spectrum) is that aspies are rude and want nothing to do with anyone but themselves. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use my headphones as an excuse not to talk to people, since I sometimes feel awkward making small talk and want to just get from point A to point B without any interactions in between. Despite my reluctance to sometimes interact with people, my wearing the headphones doesn’t mean that I dislike anyone. But since people I encounter on the street may not know that or that I’m on the spectrum, I may come across as simply rude. Also, since my headphones are noise cancelling and tend to make the music I listen to very loud, I have a tendency to get “in the zone” when I use them, which makes me seem very intense and almost like I have tunnel vision. Due to several reasons (some of which I’ve just mentioned), I’ve recently stopped using the headphones as much and have switched to Airpods, which allow me to better hear those around me. The point of this semi-rant (if you choose to call it so) is not to make any rude behavior I or anyone else may exhibit acceptable, but to instead make a point that when people, be they on the spectrum or not, wear headphones in public, they may not be doing so out of any dislike for people, but rather to help them function and be around others. If you get anything out of reading this, I hope it’s to maybe see headphones as a positive tool to help people better their lives.

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Lizzy Andretta is an actress originally from New Jersey who is now based in Minnesota. She blogs about being an Aspie and other subjects stemming from said topic. You can follow her acting work at lizzyandrettaactor.com.

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