Studio essentials: Noise cancelling headphones

Headphones & diary.jpg

Like a lot of people on the autistic spectrum, I have exquisitely sensitive hearing. I discovered noise cancelling headphones a couple of years ago and it's no exaggeration to say that they've transformed my life. 

If you're autistic, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you're not, imagine there's a volume control for the world in general, and someone's turned it up to maximum. That's your baseline, so when even louder noises occur - a drill on a construction site, for example, or really loud amplified music, it can be unbearable, even painful. Lower level noises - like a distant radio - can be intrusive to the point where they set us on edge and we're unable to concentrate. I've often been told to 'just tune it out' by neurotypicals who don't understand that I can no more do that then change the colour of my eyes.

And this is where the headphones come in. They don't eliminate everything; they're best for repetitive low noises (absolute magic on the London Underground!) and not so great at dealing with human voices, which go up and down unpredictably. But in the cavernous, echoey old repurposed warehouse where my studio is located, they dampen everything sufficiently to enable me to relax and focus on my work. What with wrestling tournaments in the basement and a nightclub next door, they get a lot of use!

The upside of all this is that in a natural environment, sensitive ears are the most amazing gift. Birdsong, waves breaking on the shore, the wind in the trees, all these are a sensory delight. Every little crack of a twig and tiny movement in a forest registers and can be identified as unique. I guess from an evolutionary point of view this would be an advantage; if your survival depends on being able to avoid predators and successfully hunt your next meal, then the more tuned in you are to your environment, the better. Maybe autistic brains have retained some of the hardwiring from a much earlier era, long before 'progress' brought us construction sites and nightclubs.


Miriam Stayte