Why "Hold Music" is my Personal Hell - Autistic Experience Series

By Alyssa Salter
Bened Life Neurodiversity & Disability Specialist

As a chronically ill person who is also Autistic, I struggle with certain sensory sensitivities daily and have built better coping skills for them. Let me share a few examples:

Dog park dirtiness: Every day, we take my service dog out to exercise at a local dog park. Some of my friends refer to me as “Dr. Dolittle” because of the connection I form with animals. This means that the dog park is kind of my kingdom. Dogs will run across the park to greet me…it’s pretty cool.

It also means that I get dirty, which is a problem. My solution? Come home, change, and wear a new outfit for the rest of the day (or until I want to change clothes again).

Car sickness: I get car-sick quite easily. If I am not driving, I am most likely going to be nauseated and need to throw up. My solution is to offer to do the driving myself so that I can be comfortable in my body. 

Those are established sensory sensitivity adaptations I have. But there is one issue that I have yet to (effectively) escape.

Hold music

I have quite the team of doctors, which means I have to do a lot of doctor’s office calls. I have to get insurance bits and bobs sorted out – more calls. I have to request copay assistance – you guessed it, more calls. 

Calls are already a barrier for me. They’re unpredictable with inconsistent volume levels, and I have no way to fully prepare for the call because there could be information they need that I am not prepared to give… literally. I will practice information I have to share (name, date of birth, reason for calling, etc.) to prepare. 

Then you give them information, and they ask one of my most dreaded questions…

“Do you mind if I put you on a brief hold?”

Of course you say yes. They need to do extra research or something and don’t want to hear me breathing for minutes on end.

And then… the music starts. 

If you’re lucky, it is a light, clear instrumental and you can set your phone down on speaker or put in an earbud and wait. This is the best of situations as this music is easier to drown out.

But if you’re not lucky? Mariachi music. Loud symphonies. Top 40. Scratchy unidentified music that cuts in and out. Or, the music is louder than the person you spoke to, so the volume discrepancy is ridiculous and you turn it down only to miss when the person returns.

You don’t know what you’ll get, how the quality is, the duration of the hold, or what may come next.

It's a marathon of building anxiety from the sound and anticipatory anxiety on your next move.

I once had a semi-pleasant hold music experience

The music was quiet jazz, and a voice would intermittently say, “You are on hold. Please continue to hold.” 

For some reason, the reminder was helpful. I was on hold. I would continue to hold. There was something comforting about this that made the minutes I was holding less stressful than it could have been with the usual scratchy in and out music garble.

Accessibility looks like many different things but perhaps…updating hold music could be something we try? With how often it’s used, it could make a big difference.


Recommended reading:

Autistic Experience Series: The Grocery Store

Alyssa’s Neuralli story - Can a Probiotic have Benefits for Autistic People

Flying as a Disabled Person with a Service Dog


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