Refuge from noise for autistic kids and adults

Photo credit: John Marino has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

America is awakening to the special needs of kids and adults on the autism spectrum. Many are hyper-reactive to environmental noise.

A few shopping centers have introduced “quiet hours” specifically aimed at families with autistic children. Now a few airports are getting the message too.

For example, Lonely Planet reports that Pittsburgh International Airport has opened a 500 square foot “sensory room” called Presley’s Place where traveling families with autistic members can calm down and get ready to fly or de-compress after landing.

For some of us, finding a quiet place is a quest, something we simply enjoy. But for others, it’s an essential need! Let’s hope other airports get the message soon.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Comments (2)

  1. Tony Verreos

    Thanks Mr. Sykes. It’s always encouraging to see that someone cares for those who are more sensitive than the majority. However, it is also far easier to program as in the case of the shopping mall, or create a small space as in the case of the Pittsburgh Airport, than to deal with the root of the problem which negatively impact so many more of us.

    Ironically, the majority of those who will tell you the jet noise doesn’t bother them, would likely never associate it with their high blood pressure or other cardio vascular illnesses. Just thinking it doesn’t matter, won’t make it so.

    Our hope rests with technology. Have you seen the new ring that some tech students (I think) created. It works like a silencer. If that can be made to work on jet engines, it would fix the noise, leaving only the vibrations and chemicals to deal with.

    1. David M. Sykes

      Yes, there are solutions to the aircraft noise problem already on the market (e.g., Pratt-Whitney’s 70% quieter “geared turbofan”–made right here in the USA– that Airbus is installing on the A320neo–but while it’s popular abroad, only two American airlines have bought it); and NASA’s work on electrically-propulsed aircraft (limited to small aircraft until the next generation of batteries become practical–this is a genuinely hot topic in the aircraft industry). Point is, the aircraft noise problem is solvable–if only Boeing and it’s lead engine-maker GE would focus on the problem. If Airbus can do it, so can Boeing/GE. I’m guessing that now that Airbus has surpassed Boeing in global sales, we’ll begin to see Boeing begin to change–thanks to “market forces.” Those are the only forces that Boeing responds to as the federal government lets them do whatever they want.


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