School Accommodations

How does Misophonia appear for Teachers and Paraprofessionals?

Circle time has started. I sit on the two foot, plastic chair next to my one-on-one student. He closes one eye while widening the other, leaning his bulging brown eye up close to mine, and making his voice go up and down with a single, drawn out, “Ahh.”

I redirect him, “Circle time. Look at Miss C.” He does. For half a minute. I look around our broken square called “circle”.

Dalton has already taken one shoe off and is quickly working on his other. Next will be his socks if no one intervenes. Some say he has a foot fetish. One way that he will stim is by examining his friends’ toes. Yes, he will take off their socks, too. But when it comes to his own feet, he just likes them to be free. The slightest wrinkle of a sock, his laces tied a bit too tight, or the moisture from his own sweat will send his socks and shoes flying.

Yes, flying, straight across the room. While shoes are being undone, Anthony has begun to cover his right ear. That is the first warning. That and his eyebrows rising above his growing eyes. Next comes his ear piercing screech.

It is sharp, quick, and loud. Just once. And then, in what looks and sounds to be desperation, he yells out another little boy’s name.

Sean had begun to cry. He doesn’t like to sit in circle. Actually, he doesn’t like to sit at all. And Anthony, he doesn’t like the sound of Sean’s cry. Two ears are now covered, and the death howl emerges from Anthony’s lungs. His body lunges up out of his seat and he runs full force toward the source of the sound.

“No!” is all anyone can hear next as Miss D, another paraprofessional, intercedes. Luckily, she has placed her body in-between just in time. Anthony goes into a fit of rage, screaming and pushing Miss D with all of his might. He wants the other boy’s sounds to stop.

For us parents of children with Misophonia, our first thoughts might be, “Yes, please, make that boy stop crying.” Or, “Get that poor boy out of the room and away from that sound, quick!” But for a teacher that has never heard of Misophonia, those two thoughts might be far from their mind. At least, not at the very tip of it.

The teacher might feel a little confused as the room definitely was not quiet to begin with. Maybe there was just too much sensory input at once. But why does this one student seem to always be the target of Anthony’s anger? And, why is it always when he cries?

Without ever hearing of Misophonia, a teacher will most likely treat the sound sensitivity like they would for their other students in trying to help them to find ways to cope and hang in there. Their goals would revolve around helping the child to express their anger with words, or visuals if they are non-verbal, practice using techniques in order to calm down, and then to ask for what they need.

Normally, this approach would make sense. But for a child with Misophonia, does it? That is why we, as parents, need to come into the picture before the first day of school. Misophonia is different than what most teachers are used to encountering. It is not a sensitivity that can be desensitized. And, it is not something that can be easily taught to ‘hang in there’. Different accommodations are going to be needed to be made.

Maybe our children will benefit from noise cancelling headphones, an accompanied walk out of the room, constant seat changes, or special accommodations during lunch and snack. Whatever it is, they cannot receive it if their teachers are unaware. It is important that we are our children’s advocates.

What can parents do?

We can write an email, request a meeting, and explain our child’s specific triggers and needs. And realize, that when it is all done, their teachers will still want to help them to be able to express their anger with words, practice using techniques in order to calm them down, and ask for what they need, and, that is good. We want that too. But with our voices being heard, and their needs being better understood, the plans being made in order to reach those very important goals, will be made in an eye opened, and now, realistic way. That is when our children can truly be accommodated for.

Children with misophonia and sensory disorders often need accommodations. Because there is no official ‘diagnosis’ for misophonia, many parents worry that their children will have the best possible school experience. The first step is to bring your child to a medical professional who can help request accommodations. An occupational therapist, MD, or psychologist/psychiatrist may be able to write a note to help get this process started. Accommodations differ in each country, but your child’s medical practitioner is the perfect place to start! You can find a sample accommodation letter here.

Can I get accommodations for my child at school?

Currently misophonia is not a diagnosis that many teachers or school personnel are familiar with. However, we offer a booklet for schools that you can use to help explain misophonia to your child’s school.

What are the accommodations that a parent should ask for?

Again, every child and every school is different. However, here are some general accommodations that have been helpful:

Preferential seating in class (sometimes it is helpful if a child can either change or choose a seat that is either close to the door or near the front of the class)

Allowing the child to leave the classroom for small breaks (It is often helpful to children to leave the classroom for a few minutes in order to get a break from the particular sounds that bother them. If the child is very young, going to the nurses office for a small break can be very useful.

Curious what accommodations are like once your child is older? Two high school students explain their stories here: what accommodations can look like. 

By Kelly Bruno, School Paraprofessional and Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout, PsyD and School Psychologist