What Can I Do If My Teenager Has Misophonia?

When we think of teenagers we often focus on hormonal, physiological and emotional changes. However, we often neglect to focus on how cognitive abilities, or thinking, changes. By adolescence, individuals are typically able to utilize abstract reasoning. However, this doesn’t happen for all teens at the same time.

During the “tween” years, individuals begin to make logical predictions about the future (“what if?” questions). Then, as they grow into the later teen years, individuals move into hypothetical and deductive reasoning, which enables them to be able to plan and organize with more efficiency. However, there is a lot of variability in this stage and the parts of the brain that mediate these functions are not fully developed until age 23.

In addition, physical growth, hormonal changes, and emotional development overlap. However, they do not necessarily move forward in sync with one another. The disparity between the physical, emotional and cognitive development can be confusing for many adolescents. However, this can be even more difficult for those with misophonia. Therefore, it helps to base your expectations of your teenager according to these differing developmental processes.

For example, despite the development of more sophisticated reasoning, self-regulation (independently calming one’s body and mind) is often an area of difficulty for teens. This is why we often refer to our teenagers as “moody” and “unpredictable”. However, the ability to self-regulate is significantly compromised in misophonia, making the teenage years possibly more “stormy”. In addition, as socialization becomes more important, your adolescent is likely to face conflict between wanting to be with friends and wanting to avoid triggers. Finally,  your adolescent may fearstigma associated with misophonia.

So, what can you do to help your teenager cope with these issues?

It may seem very challenging. However, you can help your teenager learn how to mediate relationships with friends within the context of misophonia. Here are some ideas:

  • Reassure your teen that not all social events must be attended.
  • It’s okay to skip ones that might be particularly uncomfortable, or to stay home and rest if a break is needed.
  • In addition, you can help by suggesting alternative activities for your teenager (especially ones that are regulating, such as exercise, yoga, sports, dance, etc.).
  • The more rested and regulated your teenager is, the easier it will be to cope with triggers.
  • Help your adolescent understand that missing a particular event today will likely make tomorrow a better day.

Finally, as many of us know, family conflict often arises from the stressors of the adolescent years. Teenagers usually experience conflicts related to separating from family/parents as they move toward their peers. This conflict can be exacerbated for teenagers with misophonia, since they may be more reliant on their parents’ help. For many parents, it is difficult to parse out “typical teenage behavior” and behavior related to misophonia. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Ask your teenager as calmly as you can about any behavior with which you are concerned
  • This will encourage self-awareness.
  • Try to make this a discussion to help figure these issues out, rather than making assumptions and engaging in conflict.
  • Seek a mental health provider who can help if you and your family if you feel that you are faced with problems that seem insurmountable.
  • Although the number of doctors and mental health clinicians is smaller than we would like, many are willing to learn about misophonia.
  • Ask your doctor or therapist to consult with another professional who understands misophonia, and/or give them reliable information (provided at the end).
  • Suggest to your counselor or therapist to take a course on misophonia. All clinicians are required to take continuing education credits and many are happy to take an online misophonia course. A link for a course is provided below.

Adolescence is difficult for the individual, and it is equally as daunting for parents. Misophonia can certainly make this already “stormy” time worse for everyone. However, helping your teenager make some adjustments within daily routines and in regard to social events can go a long way. Demonstrating understanding and patience when your adolescent is behaving in ways that concern you is not necessarily “indulgent”. Teens with misophonia often need their parents’ guidance and support for a bit longer than others.

For a comprehensive literature review to give your doctor: //www.misophoniainternational.com/academic-article-misophonia-research/(link is external)

If your doctor or therapist would like a course on misophonia //www.sensationandemotionnetwork.com/ceus-for-clinicians.html

How Do I Get My Misophonia Teen to Socialize?

One of the more pernicious side-effects of misophonia, particularly when one is lacking the proper coping skills, is isolation. When it seems as if trigger sounds may pop up anywhere one goes, and lead to internal mayhem one does not know how to deal with, the easiest solution often seems to be staying home, avoiding social interaction altogether. Though this may help avoid one problem, unfortunately, it creates another. Isolation can lead to loneliness and disengagement in adults, and, importantly, may stunt social development in children and adolescents. This can be distressing for misophonia sufferers and their families. Parents of misophonia kids and teens may wonder, how can I encourage my child to socialize, despite his or her sound sensitivity? The good news is, though it may not seem possible, there are several strategies you and your child can use to help ease socializing for him or her. This is certainly not a lost cause, for any misophonia sufferer. Below are a few helpful tips:

Take a break

When sensory stimuli is overwhelming, whether at home, in the classroom, or out with friends, your child can learn to “take a break” from the situation. By politely excusing him or herself to the hallway, restroom, or outdoors, your teen can create a short time away from the bothersome stimulus. This can be a respite, in which your child’s nervous system can return to homeostasis. Oftentimes, after a break, a child can return to a room with noxious noises feeling much calmer. Here is a sample accommodation letter that can be printed and brought to your doctor to personalize.

Advocate for yourself

Though it may be particularly difficult for easily-embarrassed teens, self-advocacy can go a long way to helping misophonia sufferers feel more confident in their environments. In school or at work, self-advocacy may mean pushing for necessary accommodations, and fighting through bureaucracy, however with friends and peers, this is a much simpler process of explaining the disorder in easy-to-understand terms. You may want to work with your teen on how best to explain misophonia to his or her friends, in as much or little detail as he or she feels comfortable sharing. Once your child feels his or her friends understand the disorder, he or she may feel more comfortable leaving the room when trigger sounds are present, putting in headphones, and using other coping skills.

Choose social engagements wisely

Living with misophonia does not mean one cannot spend time in whichever social situation he or she would like, however, it does mean certain situations will be easier to handle. For example, if one is bothered by chewing and swallowing sounds, but not by loud music, it may be far more enjoyable to attend a concert than to go to a restaurant. Likewise, if a teen suffers from hyperacusis (sensitivity to loud sounds), he or she may have an easier time going for a walk with a friend, rather than to a large party. Generally, if misophonia teens feel empowered to select activities that suit their sensory needs (outdoor activities, activities where trigger sounds are not often present, etc.) they will be able to enjoy time with friends with reduced anxiety. This is not to say anyone can completely prevent trigger sounds from occurring, but may simply reduce that likelihood.

Continue to Build Coping Skills

Though it is a long road, the surest way to encourage social interaction from your misophonia teen is through building coping skills. The more your child feels that he or she has the tools to deal with misophonic triggers as they arise, the more comfortable he or she will feel in a variety of environments. This can be achieved through working with a professional, or multiple professionals, in various fields, from psychology, to audiology, to occupational therapy.

The most important tip we can offer is to not give up! Sensory issues can sometimes make the world seem terrifying, with a trigger sound around every corner, however having misophonia does not mean you cannot enjoy your life. With some extra planning and effort, your teen can and should have a full social life. You can find coping tips here.

By Maddy Appelbaum