Scott Bennett had run out of ideas to get his youngest son Sam to keep his voice down.
Sam, 21, is on the autism spectrum, and though he’s the epitome of a social butterfly — “People just fall in love with him,” Scott tells PEOPLE — he’s long struggled with an exceptionally loud speaking voice.
“He just never had the ability to modulate it,” says Scott, 59. “For years we’ve been struggling with this, since he started talking… and the voice level is really, really, really loud.”
Sam is initially responsive when asked to use his “inside voice,” but the fix is only temporary, and soon, his noise levels rise once again.
“We just can’t go places. He’s also got a short attention span, too, so you put all these things together, and it’s hard on the family,” says Scott. “You learn to adapt, but it’s always tough, and especially for a guy like me who thrives on silence, I got blessed with the loudest human being on the planet.”
All that has changed recently for the Frisco, Texas-based family of five thanks to a helpful discovery Scott stumbled upon while scrolling through his Apple Watch.
Scott says he was updating his apps one morning when he noticed the Noise app, which measures decibel levels of its users’ surroundings, and turns a corresponding color, flashing yellow when things are loud to the point of risking hearing damage.
“My first thought was, ‘I gotta try this with Sam. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?’ Beause we had tried everything,” Scott recalls.
Excited by his discovery, he woke his son — who is currently working six days a week at an Embassy Suites internship program — and showed him how his voice could make the app go from green to yellow.
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“He immediately saw that and started using his own voice to make it work, and then immediately started talking really quietly,” he says. “I was like, you gotta be kidding me. My wife [Cristy] is not gonna believe this. I don’t believe what I’m seeing.”
In the weeks since the find, Scott, who will now simply flash Sam his watch to adjust his volume, says his household has been a lot more “peaceful” — especially for the family dog, who would typically run to a separate part of the room while Sam spoke loudly.
“It’s just made things a lot more tolerable for us and for our family,” he says. “It raises the possibility that maybe someday I could take him to a golf tournament, ‘cause I’d love that. He loves to golf. I’d love to try that, but I could just envision Tiger Woods backswing hearing Sam and then I’m on national television and my son’s being corralled out of the tournament grounds.”
Despite the progress Sam has made, Scott says he wishes his son had had that technology as a child, as it “could’ve made a big difference for us” had he grown up being able to gauge his voice levels on his own.
In that vein, Scott has taken strides to inform other parents dealing with similar issues, sharing his discovery on a Facebook group for parents of children with special needs. He says he received more than 100 responses from people excited to try out the app.
“There’s 5 million of these folks [with special needs] out there, and every one of them is different, and has different issues and needs. And it’s really hard to make use of all the technology that’s out there,” Scott says. “I’m sure there’s other things out there that my son could benefit from, it’s just, who has the time to go through them and sort through all these things? I just happened to see one thing and it really made a difference for me, and I’m excited enough to want to share with other people.”