“Happy Birthday” is the worst!

crying birthday boy

As Taylor continued through elementary school, we learned more about what sensory sensitivity was really about and how difficult it can be to find the source of the discomfort.

Some things that I thought would bother him wouldn’t faze him at all. Loud music? Taylor LOVES loud music with heavy metal being his favorite. Even today, if a song comes on that he likes, we have to turn it up, while he simultaneously listens to a completely different song through his phone. With one headphone in, he would listen to both songs together.

Personally, this is where MY sensory sensitivity hits. It drives me nuts! How he handles that all at once, I may never know. It gives me a horrible headache, but he seems to be able to separate out both songs as he listens and enjoy both of them.

Commercials? That’s a big “No”! It doesn’t matter if it is on the radio or the TV, if a commercial comes on, no matter where he is in the house, he will run into the room, almost at a panic, and turn it down while holding his ears.Taylor even learned how to hold both ears closed using only one hand. He will shrug one shoulder up to it cover his ear while using his left hand to cover the other ear. This way, he still has his right hand free to continue doing whatever it is that he is doing. He has done this since I can remember.

Why don’t all loud sounds bother him? Great question. Excellent in fact.

I have no idea. This is one of those mysteries I have yet to solve.

One thing that has made his life better are the headphones. We have found that the Beats headphones are best for also cutting down surrounding sounds but his favorite are just the standard earbuds since he isn’t particularly fond of having his ears completely covered. He has them with him at all times and it has helped him deal with environments that otherwise may be a sensory overload. If a place is too loud or has a noise that bothers him, he just puts on his headphones and listens to his favorite songs or videos.

When he was still little, one thing that was guaranteed to send him into a full blown panic attack was the singing of the “Happy Birthday” song. We learned this the hard way when Taylor was 18 months old.

The whole family had all gotten together one evening that just so happened to also be my mother-in-law’s (MeeMaw) birthday. When we arrived at Mike’s uncle and aunts house, MeeMaw met us in the driveway and got Taylor out of his car seat to carry him inside. As soon as MeeMaw walked into the house holding Taylor, Mike’s uncle broke out into the loudest, most off key song of “Happy Birthday.” It was hilarious…to everyone but Taylor.

Taylor started crying and we could not get him to calm down. Mike’s uncle felt so bad, but Mike and I told him that Taylor was just tired that evening. I don’t think it was the loud singing that made Taylor cry, I think it was because everyone joined in and also started singing together. No less than ten people were singing. Not one person was singing in key. Nobody was singing in sync.

Think about it.

How many times have you listened to people sing “Happy Birthday”? Now try and think how many times it sounded GOOD. You’re struggling for an answer right now. I’m right, aren’t I?

When Taylor was three, we went to one of his friend’s birthday parties. As we all began to sing “Happy Birthday” to her, I saw Taylor run out the back door. I ran after him and found him hiding under the back deck, holding his ears tight, curled up in a ball, crying his eyes out.

“One thing I know for certain is that I cannot change the world for Taylor.”

Okay. This was real. For whatever reason, Taylor couldn’t handle this song. He was completely inconsolable. I ended up sitting under the deck with him for almost thirty minutes trying to redirect him so he could move on from this song.

At Taylor’s fifth birthday party, I made sure to tell everyone not to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. They waited until he left the room and sang it anyways, leaving me wondering “who is this party really for?”

That was Taylor’s last birthday party. Every birthday after that, we went somewhere special and had a much happier birthday boy.

One thing I know for certain is that I cannot change the world for Taylor. People will continue to sing “Happy Birthday” in Taylor’s presence.

Now, when we go to birthday parties, I give him a head’s up. I walk up to him and whisper in his ear, “Taylor, they are about to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Taylor takes that moment to put on his headphones or leave the room and then comes back after it is over. We have learned how to handle it. More importantly, Taylor has learned how to handle it.

Your first thought may be, “Well, the answer is simple. Just don’t go to birthday parties.”Okay. Let’s think about this because that was my first answer, too.

It didn’t work.

How many times have you been out to dinner and the waiters and waitresses start suddenly singing happy birthday to someone in the restaurant?

How many times have you walked into church or maybe a soccer game or a lunchroom and everyone decides to sing happy birthday to someone?

I can tell you that it happens more than you know. If it doesn’t affect you, then you don’t really think about it. When you have a child that has a meltdown when he hears it, believe me, you will remember every single time it has happened. Having a panic attack over the birthday song may sound silly until you see it happen. I can promise you, there is nothing “Happy” about it.

Then, Taylor discovered YouTube. He found new ways to sing “Happy Birthday” and would ask if he could play his videos at birthday gatherings instead. The irony is that most of the versions he found were far more obnoxious than the original, but Taylor loved it. They made him laugh, so they made us laugh, too.

He still does this today. I always ask if we can sing and what we usually get is “how ‘bout this instead?” and then he will show us a new version on YouTube. The video below is from his last birthday. He let us sing with his video, then he had to listen to the video without us singing.

We have fun with this now and it is no longer a traumatic experience. It took us a few years, many tears and trials and errors but we learned a way around it. Taylor learned a way to function with this discomfort and that is what Mike and I work so hard to help him do.

Our goal is always to teach Taylor how to handle things that are stressful to him and handle himself well in this crazy world of ours.
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