When The Autism Channel asked us to create some one-minute pieces for Autism Awareness month, we thought it would be good for Sam (Rocket) to tell one on himself. Sam has always had supersonic ears. But we soon learned that sensitive hearing does not equate to listening. Part of what distracted him was that he was hearing his own heartbeat, the sound of ventilation systems, the sounds of ticking clocks—things you and I would normally filter into the background of our conscious awareness. Sounds like these were as front and center to him as human speech directed at him. He simply was unable to filter any sound from the Surround Sound™ of life.
…his attention to the world of sound…
“the music of the world around him.”
He was steeped in his autistic world and we were trying to reach him. We could see that he was distracted by sounds it seemed we simply couldn’t hear. As his parents, we felt we could find a path to relating to him by following his attention to sound, what he now calls “the music of the world around him.”
This lead to some unusual activities, like riding up and down elevators ad nauseum and listening to the mechanical squeaking sounds of them; like finding all manner of trickling, dripping, leaking, splashing, crashing or running water; like learning how to tune in to the faintest whispers of music in various settings like restaurants, malls, or while driving by other cars.
When I think of where Sam was when we started this journey (the autism part) sixteen or seventeen years ago…had I seen this video of his future self, I would never have believed it possible. To watch him confidently stride along, talking about his sensory issues and acknowledging the depth of the impact his parents’ playing together with him had on him (even when we didn’t “get” the game), I am amazed.
Autism, of course, has changed all of us. Aside from making us stronger, it has also taught us the value of playing. When we made this video this weekend, it was just like…dare I say…the “good old days,” playing with Sam, following him down the rabbit hole to a source of sound that lit him up and made the wild world wonderful for him.
But, it’s not over. As we trudged out to the end of the jetty where the Wave Organ was this past weekend, we passed by The San Francisco Yacht Club maintenance building. There, some men were doing something that had to do with sailboat racing. One guy, looking through binoculars at the sailing boats in the bay, yelled, “Prepare for gun!” We were like…huh? …what? As we looked up, he was brandishing a revolver and wearing ear-protection head gear. Sam got it instantly, held his ears, and hopped away like a bunny. I was still taking in the information when the gun went off.
It was almost like one of those jokes the universe plays on you. In the past, Sam would have completely fallen apart with an event like this. But he handled it and moved on. His dad remarked, “How ironic. Here we are going to make this piece about sound and sensitivity and this gun goes off.” Sam laughed. Wow! Who ever could have guessed that he — and we — would come so far.
Sally Park Rubin is the producer of The Rocket Family Chronicles seen on The Autism Channel