Different types of sound can be easier or harder on our ears and sound can have an impact on our ability to process information coming from other senses and impact on our levels of stress. Some sounds are naturally alerting, which is useful if we are trying to gain someone’s attention, but not so useful if we are trying to help someone feel calm and safe or so that they can engage with a task. Other sounds are naturally calming and may be useful for creating a calm safe auditory landscape, but not so useful if you’re driving late at night or need to stay awake for some other reason.
Some examples of alerting sounds might be:
- A shout
- A bark
- A jangle of keys or cutlery
- The bang of something being dropped on the floor
- Something that changes pitch, like a siren.
Some examples of calming sounds might be:
- Your own name said in a calm voice
- White noise (think of babies falling asleep to the sound of vacuum cleaners)
- A steady low beat
This guidance shows you how you can create a calmer environment by mitigating against alerting sounds and introducing more calming sounds.
Guidance and instructions
Consider the sounds a person is likely to experience in the environment you are providing for them and what effect this might have on them. Remember that people have different levels of sensitivities to noise, frequencies and tones. Listen carefully and ask others about what they can hear too, what bothers them and what doesn’t bother them. If you suspect that the person you are supporting is adversely affected by alerting sounds try these ideas for mitigating against them alerting sounds:
- Turn off equipment that produces unnecessary sound where possible, e.g. televisions, mobile phone notifications.
- Introduce cushions and blankets around the room, these will absorb sound and deaden sharp noises.
- Padded display boards can be stood in front of doors to absorb sound that might enter the room from outside. They can also be used to create a quieter area of the room for someone to rest in.
- If possible, opt for carpeted floors and curtains – fabric absorbs sound.
You can also introduce naturally calming sounds but only do so if you are purposefully creating a soundscape for someone to relax in. If it is necessary for them to engage with sound, e.g. to listen to your voice or to enjoy sounds they are making for themselves then it is best to allow the environment to be quiet so that they can focus their processing capacity upon the intended sounds.
Some examples of soft calming sounds to try are:
- Gentle white noise (you can get white noise apps on your phone or find recordings of white noise online).
- The sound of tree leaves rustling. This natural sound is slightly easier for us to process than synthetic sound.
- The sound of waves lapping on the sand. This natural sound is easy to process and contains a natural rhythm which has communicative benefits.
- A heartbeat sound, you can find recordings of the sounds inside the womb these are a brilliant way to access a heartbeat combined with the soft white noise of amniotic fluids, search on YouTube for examples that have not had music added to them.
What to observe, assess and record
- Pay attention to noise in the environment and observe to see how the person may be affected by them.
- Observe the person carefully when you take away or mitigate against alerting sounds and when you introduce calming sounds. What changes in the sound environment do they appear to benefit from?
- Be sure to record and share any findings you make with others so that they can make the necessary adaptations to support the person to have the optimum soundscape for their wellbeing.
© Joanna Grace: Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, author, trainer, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.
For more guidance and information on how to make objects for sensory-being and what types of sensory experience are most likely to be accessible, read Sensory-being for Sensory Beings by Joanna Grace, published by Routledge
Connect with Jo on social media to continue this sensory conversation:
Created October 2020