We get urgent questions from people seeking relief from noise caused by gas-powered leaf blowers, mowers, and other landscape maintenance equipment. They include people with autism, hyperacusis, tinnitus, and sensory deprivation disorders. In many cases, their stories are heartbreaking. We want to help. Can you help us do so?
Noise and An Autistic Child: A Case in Point
Among the most distressing emails we received recently was from Josie, mother of a three-year-old boy with autism. We’ve already forwarded Josie’s situation to members of our Medical Advisory Council and our Legal Advisory Council but we’re looking for ways to respond more immediately and more directly.
At Josie’s apartment complex, leaf blowers, mowers, and other gas-powered equipment are used to maintain the complex and the outside of her apartment. The din of noise has brought her to the point of tears and nausea:
The first time they had 3 leaf blowers outside [my son’s] window within 2 feet of each other. It was awful and my son just froze on the ground like in a war. I went out jumping up and down and they wouldn’t stop or could even hear me I was right next to them. After the first time my son began to pull my hair aggressively …he was shaking [his] head a lot. [The crew] kept on coming in front of building over and over at least 4 times with same equipment. The mower even stopped out front [of our unit]. I’m so stressed and mentally exhausted. My son has therapy today in home and he just trying to wind down and fidgeting with his blanket obsessively.
Talks with management and contractors have been unsuccessful. Each week the contractor returns again.
This is a serious problem documented in medical literature that affects millions of people.
According to the medical literature, children and adults with autism are often exquisitely sensitivity to sound (1-3). The problem is not trivial. More than 3.5 million people in the US are afflicted with autism spectrum disorder, over 30% of whom are children. Sound can cause them real pain – in some cases extreme pain – as well as profound fear (4, 5). They may cover their ears to protect themselves or indulge in behaviors such as rocking or shaking their hands to soothe themselves (6). Avoiding or mitigating this distress is difficult, costly, and/or ineffective.
Leaf blowers, mowers, and other fuel-powered equipment operate at deafening levels, which according to industry sources, are up to 1000 times the level deemed to cause permanent hearing damage and greater than 1000 times the levels known to raise blood pressure, contribute to heart disease, and cause physical pain (7, 8). The Centers for Disease Control highlight gas-powered leaf blowers and mowers as important sources of harmful environmental noise on their Environmental Noise Exposure and Health website. A recently released special report from Harvard Medical School (Hearing Loss: A Guide to Prevention and Treatment – May 2016) lists gas leaf blowers and mowers first in a list of noisy equipment and appliances.
This is a pressing public health problem. We will write letters to bring this issue to the attention of medical and public health officials, the legal community, community leaders, and policy makers. We will also inform equipment manufacturers, landscape service providers, residential property managers and their respective associations of the distress these machines and practices are causing members of the public and insist that they take appropriate actions. Please send us your suggestions on other ways in which Quiet Communities can assist people like Josie in their efforts to protect the health of their family members.
- Gomes E1, Pedroso FS, Wagner MB. Auditory hypersensitivity in the autistic spectrum disorder. Pro Fono.2008 Oct-Dec;20(4):279-84.
- Mercati O, Huguet G, Danckaert A, et al. CNTN6 mutations are risk factors for abnormal auditory sensory perception in autism spectrum disorders. Mol Psychiatry. 2016 May 10. doi: 10.1038/mp.2016.61. [Epub ahead of print]
- Sinha Y1, Silove N, Hayen A, Williams K. Auditory integration training and other sound therapies for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD003681. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003681.pub3.
- Morris R. Managing Sound Sensitivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder: New Technologies for Customized Intervention. Master of Science thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009.
- Koegel R, Openden D, and Koegel L. A systematic desensitization paradigm to treat hypersensitivity to auditory stimuli in children with autism in family contexts. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, vol. 29, 2004, pp. 122-134.
- Autism Symptoms: A Caregiver’s Guide. WebMD.
- How Do We Protect Our Ears? Worksheets. A PLANET Safety Training Program for Land Care Employees. Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), 2012.
- Passchier-Vermeer W, Passchier WF. 2000. Noise exposure and public health. Environ Health Perspect 108:123–131.