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Misophonia for Parents

If you have a child with misophonia this information will help you.

Written by Jennifer Jo Brout and Maddy Appelbaum

Courtesy of Pexels
Source: Courtesy of Pexels

Discovering Misophonia

As a parent, you may have noticed something “off” about your child’s responsivity to sounds. Perhaps he or she has outbursts at the dinner table, or in the car, or runs away from repetitive keyboard tapping. You may have searched the internet for answers to this problem, or spoken to an MD, or psychologist. Whichever the path, you now suspect your child suffers.

What is Misophonia?

Misophonia is a neurophysiological condition in which the brain may misinterpret certain sounds as threatening, or harmful. In turn, the body readies for fight-or-flight. These sounds are usually pattern-based and can be either loud or soft. Often sounds are related to other people, but not always. Jastreboff and Jastreboff (2001), began using the term "misophonia" in order to differentiate misophonia patients from those who suffered from hyperacusis. The Jastreboffs' describe hyperacusis as "an abnormally strong reaction to sound occurring within the auditory pathways. At the behavioral level, it is manifested by a patient experiencing physical discomfort as a result of exposure to sound (quiet, medium or loud)...Misophonia can be defined as abnormally strong reactions of the autonomic and limbic systems resulting from enhanced connections between the auditory and limbic systems."

What Do We Know About misophonia?

Within the body, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) activates functions necessary for survival outside of our conscious awareness (i.e., freeze/fight/flight). While research on misophonia is in its infancy, a simple way to think about this is: When an individual with misophonia hears a trigger sound, the brain misinterprets this sound as harmful or toxic. Although the individual consciously realizes the sound is not dangerous, they are unable to stop these neurophysiologic changes.These changes lead to a variety of emotional or behavioral responses. People who suffer from misophonia describe their emotions as angry, enraged, sad, over-loaded, fearful, and more. Scientists are beginning to explore the neurophysiological underpinnings of misophonia. Although there are only a small number of studies, researchers have used tests such as the EEG (electroencephalogram) and brain imaging, such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to better understand these features of misophonia.

Though research on misophonia is still in its infancy, there are several points with which scientists seem to agree:

  • Misophonia is real.
  • Symptoms vary from mild to severe.
  • Misophonia is audiological, neurological, and physiological.
  • The underlying mechanisms of misophonia are related to atypical connections between the circuits in the brain that process sound, and those that process emotions, specifically including the fight/flight response.

Although the research is still sparse, misophonia has been explored from different
perspectives. Self-report surveys have been used to understand the similarities between misophonia and other disorders, such as hyperacusis, anxiety, synesthesia and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Misophonia can co-occur with mental and other health disorders. However, many people agree that
misophonia is likely a stand-alone condition.

Who Can Help A Child With misophonia?

There are many types of professionals who can provide assistance to your family. When these people are willing to collaborate and share knowledge, this team-based approach has the potential to be life-changing for your family.

Audiologists can evaluate your child for misophonia. They can assess your child for any additional auditory problems and may provide devices such as in-ear white noise-generators. (Noise generators also use different colors of noise to mask trigger sounds. Each “color” of noise represents a different combination of frequencies and is used for different purposes in medicine, technology, and music. White noise is an equal mixture of frequencies 20 Hz to 20kHz, pink noise favors lower frequencies, and blue noise favors higher frequencies.)

Psychologists, Counselors and Social Workers can help your child find coping mechanisms that can lessen the impact of triggers, and make it easier to deal with situations in which triggers may be present. They can also educate your child about how misophonia affects his or her brain and body.

Psychiatrists can prescribe medication to treat symptoms and conditions that may accompany misophonia (such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, etc.). However, it is important to know that presently there is no research that addresses medication in order to treat misophonia.

Neurologists can test to rule out other conditions that may appear to be misophonia or accompany the disorder.

Occupational Therapists can teach your child ways to balance out the sensory system and deal with sensory overload. They may give your child exercises and activities that contribute to a “sensory diet,” which calms and fulfills an individual's sensory needs, lessening the impact of trigger sounds.

A multi-disciplinary team may be the best way to help your child cope with misophonia. Although it is not always easy to find such teams, there are some centers that may be able to help, and there are some practitioners that consult with others across disciplines to help you put together the best team for your child.

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