How to Teach a Brain in Pain: Sound Sensitivity

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A student with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may have an extreme sensitivity to sound as a result of that injury. For these students, when startled by a sound, the brain may get agitated, making it a challenge to learn. It’s helpful to show a student how to deal with the agitation and transition back to work. How do I know? This was – and still is – a symptom of my brain injury. Many sounds will make a student jumpy, meaning they physically show a jolting movement when they hear the sound. A student can still talk, but they might not be able to focus immediately after hearing a loud sound because the brain is too agitated. Realistically, you won’t be able to prevent loud noises in the classroom, but there are certainly ways to support the student. Here’s the challenge: Only the student knows what triggers the sensitivity. You can come up with some possible things (e.g., loud volume) that might trigger the injured brain, but only the student’s brain knows what triggers it. This will be a new phenomenon for many students and can be scary because the reaction can be so obvious to others.

I kept notes as best I could during the healing process of my traumatic brain injury. I’ve always been interested in the brain and how it works and how the symptoms from the injury give me first-hand knowledge of the brain’s healing. I wrote the following from my notes to try and bring my thoughts together about the sound sensitivity I now have. As of 2020, I’m five years into my healing process and I wrote this about the third year in. My writing is not yet where I want it to be, but I’m getting there.

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