One feature of Autism can be a specific fascination or focus on something in particular. For many children this can be trains or cars. J is definitely one of these children. He loves anything with wheels and is particularly fond of trains. Especially battery operated ones which make a lot of noise. Trackmaster trains mainly. At times he loves to put them on the track and watch them go around, though most of the time he prefers to turn them on their side and just leave them running or to put them face to face to ‘fight’ each other with their wheels turning round and round endlessly trying to push the other out of the way. He watches other people doing this with their trains on You Tube too. One or two of these is loud enough but J loves to have at least 6 or 8 of these machines churning away in the background while he goes about the rest of his business. I like to think I am as patient or tolerant as the next person but listening to these little babies churn on and on relentlessly would be enough to drive even the most calm person insane!
We have tried limiting him to one or two at a time but somehow he always manages to track down some others. We have also tried removing the batteries but he asks relentlessly for more until we finally give in. We have even sat with him to show him how to use them correctly and tried to encourage him to keep on doing this. I think he actually finds the constant background noise comforting. Even if he is in another room, he can tell when we have switched them off and instantly returns to put them back on. This isn’t just down to wilfulness on his part (though I’m sure some of his persistence could be attributed to this). He gets some kind of sensory feedback and response from doing this. It serves a purpose and meets a need for him.
Many children find it difficult to filter noises in their environment and need a focus to help them to be able to tune in to other specific things, some children just want to drown another noise out. It helps them to cope with things. Some children like white noise, others actually make the noises themselves by humming or singing. I suppose it’s a bit like when we tap a pencil or our foot while we are thinking or writing. It’s a distraction that helps us to focus in on what we are trying to do. It may look like they are just making random noises or movements but for them it has a purpose, it helps to ground them and make them feel calm.
If you want to read a little more about it there is a short article here:
For now, at least we can understand why he feels the need to have his trains running away constantly in the background. He gets enjoyment from it but it also helps to calm him down and ground him. Though I’m not sure it makes them any easier to listen to!