York City noise elevates woman's autism


When York City resident Regi Wise hears a loud noise, she said at a city council meeting on Sept. 15, it hits her like a blow from a crowbar.

Noise has physical consequences for Wise: She said she has been hospitalized for what she calls "noise-induced trauma," which can cause her heart rate to rise to dangerous levels.

Wise, who declined to say what area of the city she lives in, has a form of autism that causes her to have a stronger response to sensory stimulation than neurotypical people as well as misophonia, a condition that makes her hypersensitive to sound.

She often has negative physical and emotional reactions to noise.

Her misophonia, which she said often exists in individuals with autism, has caused her to lead a circumscribed life.

"I can't hold a job because of sensory overload," she said.

Noise doesn't have to be loud to bother her, she said.

She can't find quiet in her home, in stores or in public parks.

She is affected by noise dozens of times each day and often has "meltdowns" while driving because of loud music from people's car stereos and other street noise, she said.

"I have been sitting at a stoplight and blacked out in my car because of loud music," she said.

"Sometimes all I can do is scream and scream and scream."

Wise is often forced to confront people who blast loud music from their homes or cars. But when she asks her neighbors and others to turn down their music, they lack empathy, often arguing with her, she said.

The stress of these confrontations adds to the exhaustion she feels as a result of her hypersensitivity to her surroundings, she said.

That overstimulation and exhaustion can lead to burnout, she said. "I'm at the tail-end of (a burnout) now," she said.

When burnout happens, Wise said, she has to teach herself how to do basic things, even how to eat.

A plea: Wise recently attended a city council meeting to ask the council to do something about noise pollution in the city.

She spoke on behalf of city residents with autism and sensory issues, citing the high rate of suicide for people with autism.

"What I would love," Wise said after the meeting, "is that if your music can be heard outside your vehicle or outside your house, you get a ticket."

There should be public spaces where people with sensory issues can go and know they can find quiet, she said.

No new laws would be necessary, city council president Carol Hill-Evans said after a meeting. The city could enforce noise ordinances already on the books.

The noise-control ordinance, Article 714 of the city's codified ordinances, forbids many kinds of noise disturbances, including blowing a car's horn or allowing tires to squeal unnecessarily, having excessively or continuously loud pets, using power tools at night, and yelling or playing music so as to cause a noise disturbance across property lines.

A first violation of the noise ordinance is punishable by a fine of $150-$1,000, a second violation by $300-$1,000 and a third by $500-$1,000.

Enforcement:Sgt. William Wentz, who has served as a nuisance abatement officer since 2005, said Wednesday that noise is one of the most common complaints among the 50,000 to 60,000 calls the department fields every year.

And officers do cite people for noise disturbances: at least one person gets a ticket each week, he said.

Wentz said he wished the department had the manpower to better enforce the noise ordinances, calling noise a "major problem" in the city. He said the department must prioritize calls, and safety takes precedence over issues like noise.

Enforcement of the noise-control ordinance is mostly complaint-driven, he said, but officers cite people for causing noise disturbances when they can — such as when a loud car drives by and nothing higher-priority, like a car crash or a shooting, is occurring.

In the 1990s, when Wentz was working the night shift, the city had a problem with young people cruising downtown listening to loud music, he said. Police dealt with it by creating a dedicated "cruising squad" of three officers who patrolled the circuit, along Market and Philadelphia Streets, where cruising took place.

In addition, a cruising ordinance was created to discourage the practice.

Most people who make noise complaints don't want charges filed, he said. They just want police to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

If police issue a citation, the person who made the complaint, along with the officer who responded and the person who caused the disturbance, must appear before a judge.

"People don't want to have their neighbor arrested or cited," he said. "They just want us to go talk to them and tell them to turn it down."

What about Regi Wise, for whom noise is a safety issue?

"Her best course of action would be to contact community services," Wentz said.

Community services, he explained, is a department within the York City Police Department that helps people solve neighborhood problems before they result in tickets or arrests. Community services could mediate in a conversation between Wise and her neighbors, he said.

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.