This blog discusses the science and everyday managment of children and adults who live with neurological & learning disorders, PTSD, and other disorders associated with sensory processing disorder (SPD) and intolerance to sound, lights, and scents. In these affected individuals, sensory overexposure often results in medical sequela ranging from headache to dizziness, irritability, behavioral changes, descreased cognition, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. In later stages, it can trigger “siezures.” Sound sensativity affects about 20 percent of the population. Problematic sensory processing disorder affects 5-10 percent of the population.
Sensory processing disorder is related to dysfunction of any of the five (5) senses. It was earlier termed sensory integration disorder (SID), hyperacusis, sensory overstimulation, and sensory overload. Sensory problems and SPD commonly follow neurological disorders and brain injury spanning hydrocephalus, post TBI, post tumor resection, multiple sclerosis, migraine disorders, drug & alcohol addiction, and PTSD, ADHD, ADD, and autism spectrum learning disabilities.
I became an affected SPD sufferer after onset hydrocephalus in 1992 from a head injury. Since 1995, I’ve undertaken research and implemented my findings in neurological consults (hydrocephalus monitoring, patient consults) and in drumming therapy and drum circle workshops with a wide array of health populations. While my specialty is mhealth, medical devices, and cognition, I am also involved in general health, movement disorders, and wellness and write about my findings online. I am of the opinion that sound, light, motion, and stress act as “sensory triggers” and are responsible for the high prevalence of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and mental health challenges today. Imaging studies show that PTSD produces pathological changes in the brains of children. So, no doubt PTSD and sensory overload is wreaking havak on the brains of adults, including, police officers and those living in inner cities with high rates of crime.
The web page linked below provides a nice overview of the five (5) senses. Typically 1 to 3 of these are compromised in sensory processing disorder (SPD).
It has only been about 15 years (about year 2000) that SPD and sensory processing dysfunction have really been recognized. So we have a long way to go. Testing and documentation, education, and protections remain years behind what they should be.
I attribute this in part to the government’s earlier efforts to refute PTSD from military combat, and in recognizing autism as a disorder in of itself. In autism, there is also much debate and criticism of a causal relationship with childhood vaccines. And this has not helped to further care and treatment of SPD disorders.
My onset of SPD was gradual and often followed my shunt malfunctions and surgical treatment of my hydrocephalus. By the late 1990s, I understood SPD as a diminished capacity to process auditory, touch, visual, olfactory, and gustatory sensory stimuli. And over time, I began to view the challenges of SPD in terms of access & accommodations to public places, and even more broadly, cognitive accommodations with web sites, store displays, and user instructions. Today, the broader terminology for these considerations is cognitive accessibility, where I have subsequently set up a web page at www.CognitiveAccessibility.org
This next study below is list breakthrough research on sensory processing disorder (SPD) where scientists were able to document the areas of the brain affected by SPD. Thie image below is taken from their study.
A Little about Me
My name is Stephen Dolle and I began this blog in 2010. I developed hydrocephalus 4 weeks following an auto accident in 1992. In the years that followed, I had many challenges to overcome, and became involved in Food & Drug Administration advocacy that led to my designing the DiaCeph Test for mHealth monitoring of hydrocephalus.
My SPD challenges weren’t so apparent from the start due to all the challenges. It was probably year 3 that I had begun to notice how sounds and visual stimuli (lights & erratic movements) could bring on a neurological event. Young children chasing birds would really get me. For sound, it was just busy environments that bothered me. I took a few more years before I was able to identify specifically what sounds and how they could bring on a neurological event – which I term the SPD effect. This can vary a bit from person to person. But typcially you’ll see a decrease in cognition, an increase in irritability and behavior change, headache, and changes in balance and orientation.
From 1992 to 2013, I underwent twelve CNS shunt revisions. In 2015, I was also diagnosed with pachymeningitis, and it has further aggravated my SPD challenges.
It was my astute neurologist in 1999 that shared new research on sound hypersensitivity, and instructed me with tips on how to help manage it. Back then, it was often termed “overstimulation.” And it then led to my undertaking a critical SPD study.
In 2002, I undertook my first SPD Study, where I employed both the Aerex Balance Pad and the Boss BR-8 Recorder (w/ metronome) to evaluate touch, visual, and sound sensory challenges. I took my materials to a hydrocephalus conference at St. Joseph’s/CHOC Hospital in Orange, CA, and also to England Physical & Balance Therapy in Garden Grove, CA, where I was undergoing vestibular therapy. I published my study results on my web page below.
I employed the Boss BR-8 recorder and metronome to study the effect of sound on cognition in persons with hydrocephalus, plus interviewed about 20 individuals claiming to be affected by sound intolerance. I learned that the adverse effects of sound was more due to “rhythmic structure” of sound, or degree of syncopation or melody, versus volume or tempo.
I used the Airex balance pad to evaluate gaze dependency of balance in individuals with hydrocephalus. What I learned here, was that patients who were unable to maintain balance on the pad while focusing on a moving target (business card on a stick), termed gaze dependency, reported more problematic chronic headaches and SPD complaints. I concluded that additional deficits were likely causing the decreased sensory processing. I felt that the additional deficits might also help predict poor outcomes after the insertion of a CNS shunt for hydrocephalus.
Later in my study, I found that melodic and highly syncopated sound patterns seemed to offer a therapeutic effect to some of these complaints – as a mechanism in support of music therapy. I created an “audiotape” of melodic metronome beats and piano sequences from my Yamaha keyboard, and would play and listen to this audiotape 2-3 times per week. It seemed to help my sound sensory issues.
I published my study on my web site, and it has been hosted there since 2003.
It is common to experience difficulty with sound, light, and motion after brain injury and onset of neurological disorder. Perhaps the most problematic is offensive types of unsyncopated and white noise sound, which is everywhere today in busy urban areas.
You can simplify sound sensory processing into the “melodic” Mozart Effect on the healthy end of the spectrum, and tortuous repetitive sounds on the unhealthful end of the spectrum. Repetitive unhealthful sounds can make even normal people ill at the right decibel and sound pattern. In fact, sound is still today used to extract information from prisoners during wartime, and it plays a significant role in football & basketball.
In 2014, I published the above provocative blog on SPD and drumming for football, and detail how the ill effects of sound plays a role in college and NFL football. I discuss sensory and cognitive challenges from fan & stadium noise, and methods for using drum beats to help play call synchronization, player movements, and communications.
My Introduction to Drumming & Drum Circles
It was in 2004 that I became involved in hand drumming and drum circles from my personal and therapeutic activities with music. I had no thought or expectation that drumming would help my SPD challenges. But after about a year of regular drumming, I discovered that my SPD sound sensitivity was improved. I re-examined my research and proposed that group drumming might help affected individuals to better organize sound, like a form of physical therapy for sound processing. My company web page below discusses by durrent work with drumming for general health and neurological disorders.
Signals traverse our brains in wave form patterns like those seen on EEG tests, and there are literally millions of signals traversing brains daily. As our brains process signals in wave patterns, so do we physically move about in wave forms or rhythmic patterns, and one area where the two overlap today is in “proprioception,” where our bodies are able to remember specific types of movement patterns, i.e. in sports, dance, and this then is integrated into whatever sport, dance, or social activity we are doing.
As I became involved with drum circles and drumming for the brain, I discovered how drumming can help retrain the brain’s ability to process unsyncopated sound by engaging the individual in disordered sound, and allowing them to integrate an order to the beats played – in essence, serving as physical or occupational therapy for the brain. I then began to study audible rhythm’s role in balance and movement, cognition, mental health, team-building, and stress reduction.
In February 2016, I updated this earlier blog on my experience with drumming therapy in cerebral palsy and autism, plus I’ve put on quite a few drumming workshops for a number of neurological disorders. I link all of my efforts together as best I can.
Below is the autism article in support of the autistic boy in the video at the mall. This story and short video on sensory processing disorder (SPD) in autism is featured on The Mighty web site. I’ve pasted the YouTube link below so that it might play here.
In this video, Alexander Marshall, 10, of West Yorkshire, England, is the star of The National Autistic Society’s new Too Much Information campaign, and he’s featured in a short video that shows what sound sensory overload can be like.
The video is shot from Alexander’s point of view during a trip to the mall. From noises to smells to bright lights, it shows all the things that might cause Alexander, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, to have a meltdown.
SPD is often a problematic medical/disability issue in autism, and deserves to be much more a part of our public health dialog. In fact, I believe we should approach autism from the standpoint of brain health, and treat it’s related sensory processing disorder more for what it is, a sequel of medical complaints.
If 20% of the populace were found vomiting from traveling in cars and public transportation from motion sickness, that would be a big story. But when it’s an individual struggling with a health issue involving the brain (as opposed to the middle ear), the public sees it thru biased eyes. And governments do too. The link below is the National Institute on Health April 2016 publication of alternative medicine for autism.
While my own SPD complaints are not normally as severe as the child in this film, at times I feel a lot of what this child is experiencing. Often I am forced to undertake a number of steps to protect me from unhealthful sound. SPD is not just about autism or hydrocephalus or PTSD. It’s about brain health, public health, and how we all approach dysfunction of the brain.
In September 2015 I spoke on alternative medicine, SPD, cand cognitive accessibility in drug and alcohol addiction at Sovereign Health of Orange County. My presentation/blog is quite lengthy, but I share a lot of detail into SPD about 2/3 of the way through the blog.
Today in 2016 — the best way to manage SPD is not to put yourself in an environment that is more than your can process, leaving you overstimulated. You want to get out and do things. But your neurological stamina and your environment are changeable – and you may often not take the right intervention to head off an SPD event in time. Then you’re dealing with neurological sequela.
It’s important to know the individual medical makeup of each affected person, and the nature of their surroundings at any given time, and catch the early WARNING signs. If you’re around someone with SPD difficulties, the signs to watch for are: changes in their eyes, demeanor, irritability, cognition – which indicate overstimulation. Ultimately it’s a function of matching neurological stamina with a tolerable environment. Sound mobile apps, ear plugs, and eye cover can help too. My blog below discusses in more detail how decibel meter apps can help in managing sensory processing disorder. And I discuss my proposal for a new sound processing standard and algorithm measurement that could be used in sound measurement apps.
My Proposal for a Sound Processing Standard & SPD Algorithm for Mobile Apps
The image of “The Hulk” crushing a tree-schredding machine is provided as it is symbolic of the crisis facing individuals with sound sensitivities leading to neurological and behaviorial sequela. The idea for the animated Hulk Crushing the Tree Shredder comes from my HydroPowered Super-Hero series, which is a collection of super hero stories about children living with hydrocephalus. The tree schredding machine also illustrates the challenges that public noise poses to persons with sound sensory disorders. Sound sensativity affects as much as 20 percent of the population today. Yet comes with little to no accommodations or protections.
The broader issue of sensory processing disabilities and SPD spans not only adverse sensory responses on cognition, but also comprehension of information, user instructions, Internet access, access to technology, and reliability of assistive technology. In these regards then, the access to and controlled environment of, defines an accommodation that should be protected by applicable disability rights persuant to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), and Sections 504 & 508 of the Rehab Act.
One of the common sound/SPD challenges today is with loud and eratic TV and radio advertisements. I am yet to post YouTube examples, but hope to in the near future. I have been exploring technological and regulatory solutions, including, a proposal for a new sound processing standard that would allow for a reproducible means of evaluating sound for likely unhealthful qualities.
A new sound processing standard could help identify differences in sound makeup and resulting audio & brain processing, particularly in affected individuals. This would be particularly helpful in screening offensive TV and radio commercials, machinery, and non-synchronous broadcasts in public places, and would be used in concert with the current decibel emission volume standard. Generally the more monotonous or less synchronized a sound, or the more its component audio is broadcast at the top of the EQ spectrum, the more difficult it is to process. Some types of these sounds are used to break the will of prisoners. Many of today’s audio broadcasts and public noise are now approaching unhealthful levels.
The image below is a c-panel screenshot of Time Warner Cable’s VOIP telephone options for blocking “telemarketer” and other unwanted telephone calls. I have inserted my proposal for TV quiet options (technologically possible) to screen/mute/lower unhealthful audio from TV commercials and programs. I shared this on Twitter and Facebook too recently.
In 2013, I purchased the domain CognitiveAccessibility.org and have been organizing content for broader plans. This domain currently points to a page on my main web site. I do all of my web site work in Microsoft Frontpage, which is being phased out by web hosting companies. I am now writing more on WordPress as have found it easier to use than learning a whole new web platform.
Below I share my blog on TSA Travel Accessibility tips for when flying with a CNS shunt for hydrocephalus or any cognitive disability.
These last two blogs discuss healthful solutions for sensory processing disorders as they relate to the sports of basketball and football. I also discuss methods in basketball for mindfulness and therapy to help calm the brain.
And for fun stories and art in support of hydrocephalus, visit my HydroPowered.org web site or blog.
YouTube Videos document Harmful Audio of Sounds from Everyday Life
The audio in the videos below are known to “trigger” neurological complaints and behavioral changes in persons with neurological & learning disorders with secondary sensory processing disorder (SPD). The difficulty in the sound is often in the lack of melodic pattern as I wrote about in my above 2002 metronome study. A similar depiction is presented in the above video on autism from “The Mighty.” Sometime soon, I will update this section of videos with “offensive TV & radio commercials” airing today. Despite passage of the CALM Act baring loud commercials in 2012, it seems that little has changed. Advertisers also manipulate the sound EQ distribution of audio in commercials to get your attention, making it more problematic to persons with neurological disorders and SPD.
CAUTION: Please turn down your audio.
These sounds may trigger medical sequela.
If you would like me to speak on my efforts with sensory processing disorder, workplace drumming or therapeutic drumming, please contact me via the information below. Feel free to CLICK and SAVE my contact JPEG card.
Neuroscientist & Drum Circle Facilitator
Tel. (949) 642-4592