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Why we shouldn’t use Play Therapy to desensitize Children with severe Sound Sensitively

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By Jemma Rosewater Published 3 years ago 4 min read
Why we shouldn’t use Play Therapy to desensitize Children with severe Sound Sensitively
Photo by Em M. on Unsplash

I remember when I was in 1st-3rd grade, doctors, therapists, and school staff would try to expose me to noise through play. I used to see an occupational therapist twice a week, who would try to make me engage in play that involved noise. She would try to get me to play games that had buttons that would make noises, rummage around in toy boxes to get things to play with, turn on fun aqua machines that had motors, and other activities that either involved me making noise or her making noise. These activities cause me physical throbbing and stabbing pain. I had an audiologist who knew that I enjoyed listening to books, and so came up with a plan that required me to gradually increase the volume of my books, on my iPad, and TV. Turning up the volume was physically painful for me, so I stopped listening to books, using my iPad, or watching TV. Staff at school would try to make me eat in the cafeteria with my friends, participate in recess, or fun related arts classes.

This would cause my pain level to increase and end up causing me to develop a migraine. Unfortunately trying to use play or fun activities to expose children with hyperacusis symptoms to noise, is extremely common. This is likely because the adults do not think that they are causing the child physical pain or harm, and simply think that they are having an emotional reaction to the noise. Very young children often have a hard time communicating the fact that they are in physical pain and may express this by crying, or tantruming, and even the ones who are able to communicate there pain are almost always dismissed. Unfortunately using play to expose a child to noise, that is in actual physical pain can have harmful consequences both short term and long term, by causing immediate physical pain, lingering increases in pain levels and setbacks, and traumatizing the child.

First, regardless of whether the noise is occurring or coming from a fun activity or during a time while the child is happy, if they experience physical pain from sounds, it will still cause them the same amount of pain. I know this from personal experience, turning up the volume on my audiobooks was physically painful for me, despite how much I enjoy books. This is why some children will cry or tantrum even during play therapy, because they are still in physical pain.

Second, for many people with hyperacusis the pain lingers long after the noise is over, and this increased pain level causes their tolerance level to drop even further. The days after I had therapy sessions with the OT, I would have lingering migraines. I remember the OT herself saying that I was more cooperative during our Monday sessions then our Wednesday sessions, this was because the pain had built up by Wednesday causing me to be even more sensitive. Whenever I was forced to participate in a “fun” event or activity such as the cafeteria, recess, or related arts with my friends I would have horrible migraines for about a week afterward. Using play to expose children to noise, can ultimately worsen the severity or their hyperacusis.

If the physical harm of play therapy isn’t enough of a reason to some people, or they refuse to accept that they are actually causing any physical pain or harm at all, there is an emotional reason why they should not use play therapy as well. Using play to expose children to noises that cause them physical pain is very traumatizing. The child will start to develop associations such as “fun is painful” or “games are painful.” I know this from personal experience, by the time I was nine I actually thought and would say to my Vision Teacher that “I did not like to have fun.” This is because that word had been so frequently used by adults when exposing me to sounds that physically hurt me.

Given that we don’t always know whether or not a little kid is in actual physical pain from noise or not, we need to assume that they are until they can confirm that they are not, so as not to risk harming them.


About the Creator

Jemma Rosewater

I’m a 17 year old writer & advocate for my rare disease, hyperacusis. I love writing poetry, non fiction articles, & short stories on a variety of topics: mermaids, fantasy, emotions experienced throughout human life, sci-fi, fantasy, ect.

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