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Musings about a conference I attended & handling sensory noise

GypsyMoth

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
So, I had quite the adventure this past weekend. Just thought I'd share. Started out with Thursday night and being unable to get to sleep. Not sleeping is rather a run-of-the-mill complaint for me, so the plan was to turn in at midnight and get up at five. Well, by 3 a.m. I was still lying there waiting for sleep to happen. (Side story: what's this statistic I keep running into that says insomnia only delays the onset of sleep by an average of 11 minutes? C'mon, that's not insomnia, that's...I don't know that that is but that's not insomnia.) I don't know about you, but there's no way I'm getting in a car on only two hours of sleep, so I reset the alarm & went late.

Then I found out I've shrunk out of my new work wardrobe (yeah!--I've lost 20 pounds!). Even my feet have grown thinner! But then I found a way that I could make my new shoes 'fit' by wearing fluffy socks. Might not sound very exciting, but who in the world takes nearly two hours to get dressed!?! Apparently I do. (Think I tried on nearly everything nice I own, too. Which isn't a lot--I like what I have & I detest clothes shopping. I mean, all I wear these days are worn-out jeans and faded t-shirts.)

Remarkably, I didn't get lost going there (that would be the natural time to get lost, right?)--I got lost coming home! About the time I should have been home I called hubby: "hey, you know dinner...well, I think it's going late tonight. Where am I? Gee, I dunno...Google says I'll be home soon, like, in an hour???" (I had been on the road for an hour and the meeting was only an hour away!)

So hubby drove me the next day. (He's awesome.)

We didn't get lost.

While there, I kept getting distracted by these birds outside the window. I swear, every time I found myself staring at the birds I didn't hear a word the speaker was saying. They were so beautiful, just the way they glided and pivoted in midflight, the whole flock turning a one-eighty back the way they came. Lovely. (Squirrel!)

And there was this super loud music from another event. It bothered everyone so I don't think I looked too odd doing this, but with my elbow on the table I tipped my head so as my ear pressed into my fingers and I sat like that for the longest time. Bass noises make me nauseous and sounds played out of alternating speakers will make me seasick, so this was to stave off the nausea. It worked. Later, when talking with someone, I was mid-sentence when the bass changed direction again and I just had to apologize to the person. "I'm so sorry," I said to him, "I have to see what I'm thinking about before I say it and that music is just too distracting." It sort of killed the conversation but the other person was struggling with the noise, too, so I guess it was mutual. (Ooo, look, the birds are back! How bright they are against the cerulean sky!)

Visually, I was delighted by how most people who were attending, when explaining something conceptual, preferred to look away during the explanation before reengaging eye contact. It made the environment feel very friendly. Smells, this would have embarrassed the folks I sat next to at first but there was some pretty unpleasant B.O. going on there & so I relocated to a less densely packed part of the room when able. (This is so not the kind of stuff I ever share with anyone. Hope you are not weird out.)

Actually, the noise was a major problem. At one point, I was sitting there during a break and the decibel level in the room just escalated and the world just sort of began closing in on me so that where I sat grew very small. It was a stark moment of feeling hyper-aware of all of my surroundings all at once. And the thought came to mind, you know, if you really are autistic, then it's probably just a bit of anxiety from the volume and maybe you should find something to focus on. So I did. (So, thanks to y'all & your posts on managing noise at events) Before I knew anything about autism, I probably would have found some way to retreat--look down, pretend to be busy, leave the room. But this time I tried talking with / focusing on a neighbor...only to realize too late that the sound of his words was getting lost in the noise. I could hear his voice, just could not identify what he said. (I don't think this is autism. The hearing problem is genetic.) This happened several times over the weekend and eventually led to a very awkward and (for me) embarrassing impasse that made me look like a complete idiot. I'm kind of used to it. (I swear I was replying to what I heard.) So I made do the best I could to save face but I'm not sure how well I did with that.

(You know, those online autism tests always ask if your comments are taken as rude; they never consider if they're downright embarrassing or have missed the point or that you seem to be answering something not asked, but I get these other scenarios often enough. Inappropriate or unfounded, yes, but never rude.)

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience so I'm glad I went. I am so far below the level of the professionals who attended. I did my best in asking for help with something I'm working on. I may have acquired a few new mentors, although I am also pretty sure I offended at least one person and might have annoyed a couple of others. Well, it happens. It certainly wasn't intentional. I came home exhausted and am still a bit numb about the whole thing. But you would have never known anything was amiss while I was there.

So, I just thought I'd share my experiences at this conference with you all. Maybe it can be a help to someone or maybe someone would like to share their experiences. Do you have a better way of handling the sensory environment at a conference?
 
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Aspychata

Serenity waves, beachy vibes
V.I.P Member
Truthfully, l would be staring at the birds too. Today l was just staring into space, because some customer started screaming in the bank, and my brain went straight to lockdown mode, and l went to thinking possible shooter situation being played out now. High stress possible due to hurricane damage. So l immediately flipped myself into empty cubicle and sat in a chair and waited until he left. Then l just start calculating if he went to his car for a weapon. Of course nothing happen except for the novel l was writing in my head at that time. :)

Sounds like you did great!
 

GypsyMoth

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
I never go anywhere without earplugs. Even to the local supermarket.
Yeah, I generally carry them in case of tornado sirens. (They test monthly around here but different places around here have different testing days.) It just didn't seem appropriate and the speakers were not able to speak above the noise very well. Nothing the conference host could do anything about.

I've never thought of wearing them at the grocery store. Kind of like sunglasses...I had a pair of prescription sunglasses I wore everywhere for a time. It was great. Our corner store is quiet enough but next time I go to a big box store I'll have to let you know how it works out. (Thanks!)
 

Progster

Grown sideways to the sun
V.I.P Member
It just didn't seem appropriate and the speakers were not able to speak above the noise very well. Nothing the conference host could do anything about.
Yeah, that's a bummer if you're hosting/organising a conference and there is loud noise coming from a nearby unrelated event. Probably not a lot they could do about it.
Don't feel bad or that it's inappropiate to wear earplugs in public. It's an aid to improve your experience or make it tolerable for you. After all, a blind person doesn't feel bad about having a guide dog or using a stick, not does a person who is hard of hearing feel bad about using a hearing aid.
 

GypsyMoth

Well-Known Member
V.I.P Member
Yeah, that's a bummer if you're hosting/organising a conference and there is loud noise coming from a nearby unrelated event. Probably not a lot they could do about it.
Don't feel bad or that it's inappropiate to wear earplugs in public. It's an aid to improve your experience or make it tolerable for you. After all, a blind person doesn't feel bad about having a guide dog or using a stick, not does a person who is hard of hearing feel bad about using a hearing aid.
You know, I had no idea how different my reaction to sound was before taking some of these online tests. I just...thought mine was an exceptional case. Oh, my husband is always saying my senses are off the charts. We love hiking and I can almost always tell him when other people have been about, by their shampoo or other odors that linger in the air, or by their cigarette smoke. He'll often ask me what a sound was. Some of the time I can distinguish between a bird or a squirrel or a mouse in the leaf litter by sound alone, and then we stand around waiting for the critter to show itself. Some rarer times we might spot a deer that way, too. Although, bicycles scare me half to death. I'm never listening for bicycles and by the time they shout out their approach, they're nearly on top of you anyway.

Thanks for saying what you did about not feeling bad or that it's inappropriate to wear earplugs in public. Sometimes I wear them around other people (I help volunteer sometimes, so it's people I know) and they look confused that I was wearing them, but I had to stop when I realized I wasn't picking up on when people called to me from behind. (Oops!) But maybe I should pick it up again. With them in, I can generally hear most anything within 15 feet just fine, especially if I'm paying attention--but mostly it just takes the edge off sharper noises and drowns out the background clutter.
 

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