The Conference Call
How often does it seem like everything around you gets loud right when you’re on the phone? The harder you try to listen, the louder the world around you gets. Try adding Autism into the mix – not only does the volume increase but your ability to ignore it becomes non-existent. You might as well hang up the phone because you are not going to be able to pay attention to anything being said. The problem is what to do when you can’t hang up or even worse when you aren’t even on a call yet but know that you have to dial into one.
I had some local appointments recently which gave me the opportunity to work from home. The benefit…..my commute for the day drops nearly 150 miles. The downside you never know how efficient you are going to be able to work on certain days. Following my appointments, I arrived back home in time for an important conference call. Just before jumping on a conference call, Jackson began knocking non-stop wanting to come into the office. Do I run the risk of distraction during the conference call and let him in or do I pretend that he does not exist outside the door and he will ultimately get tired and walk away? For those of you with Autistic children, you know that they never get tired and walk away.
He had his iPhone and charger in hand. He just wanted to sit in the office with me. He kept You Tubing Zelda on his phone. I would ask him to turn down the volume, but he would creep it up and up. At one point I had to speak on the call. As I did, I guess the volume of my voice was bothering Jackson, so he increased the volume on his phone. As I was making a critical point on this call, I had an entire orchestra playing behind me. It was quite powerful. I must admit. I felt as though nothing could defeat me at that moment.
I made my point. I won the argument on the phone and probably increased business as a result of Jackson’s theatrics in the background. It rarely works out this way, but I’ll take it. I may have to begin inviting him to attend more conference calls with me.
Often in business, there can be distractions or annoyances that can take us off track. I’m not speaking so much as Jackson intruding in on an important conference call (although it can be stressful), I am referring more to a disruptive office, loud gardener outside your window, flickering light bulb, system issues, etc. In business, all of these issues can be overcome with little emotion through discipline and redirection techniques. In the autism world though, tuning out or focus redirection that are successful strategies in business are hard for most people with autism. . The auditory and visual sensory overloads that they deal with on a daily basis make the usual outcome simply be a meltdown. Throw the smell of a foul odor on top of the overwhelming sights, sounds, and noise, and you might as well call it a day because it is going to be an ugly one.
So how do we deal with it? First thing, realize that it is going to happen and don’t care about the judgmental looks that we may get from people. They have no idea what you (and your child) are going through, and quite frankly they wouldn’t last a minute walking in your shoes. Most importantly, try to desensitize your child to specific sensory triggers proactively. You won’t be able to eliminate them entirely, but it is possible to lessen their effect or reaction.
We have had some success with taking Jackson to the farm. He likes seeing the animals and riding the horses. The tractors, trucks and other equipment make a lot of loud noises that in conjunction with the many odors of the farm could ignite a sensory overload outburst, but since his joy from the animals is so high, it overrides the sensory triggers. The more he has been exposed, the greater sensory tolerance he has obtained even in other environments (such as Costco, Home Depot, etc.). All children are different, but this has been a successful strategy for us.
There will always be challenges, and it is how you choose to manage them that gets you through.
Husband, father, coffee connoisseur and lover of all things hockey. At 51 I sometimes wonder have I done enough. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years. She knows all my faults and loves me anyway, As a father of “almost always” perfect boys, I am always surprised at what life has to offer. It is messy, scary, thrilling, and always fun.