Parenting a child with autism is a unique and sometimes difficult challenge. Watching your child struggle with everyday experiences like sounds, sights, and social situations can be heartbreaking — and in most cases (unless you have autism yourself), you don’t always understand how your child is feeling!
The sensory overload people with autism experience can make them feel incredibly anxious and on edge — and one of the greatest triggers is loud noises. If you have a person with autism in your life, here is everything you need to know about dealing with loud noises in everyday life.
How Does Noise Affect People with Autism?
Research indicates that 68 percent of people with autism experience some form of sensitivity to noise. But like most symptoms of autism, noise can have different effects at different severity from one person to the next. In fact, there are several types of noise sensitivity, including the following:
- Hyperacusis: a general intolerance for everyday sound, often coupled with tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears)
- Hypersensitive hearing of specific frequencies: discomfort with sounds that reach a certain frequency (usually 70 decibels or higher)
- Recruitment: a sudden increase in sound perception as decibel levels climb
- Phonophobia: a fear of specific sounds (for example, a fire alarm). This can contribute to anxious feelings.
- Misophonia: anger or rage caused by a sound, often a soft sound like chewing food.
Your child might have unique auditory triggers that can lead to anxiety. However, there are some sounds that research suggests are common triggers for people with autism. Sounds over 70 decibels, about the volume of a vacuum cleaner, can be overwhelming for people with autism, as well as the din in large social situations like a concert or busy shopping mall. Additionally, sudden loud noises that occur without warning (like a fire alarm) can be very triggering for individuals with autism.
What You Can Do
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to eliminate all loud noises from your child’s life. But if your child is experiencing anxiety from loud noises, it is possible to help treat their anxiety and help them cope. Here are a few ideas you can use to soothe a child (or adult) with autism when they experience uncomfortable noises.
Noise-canceling headphones can be a great tool for people with autism. Headphones can provide instant relief and prevent the triggering sounds from becoming too over-stimulating. However, it is important to keep in mind that many autism experts recommend using headphones in addition to other coping methods so that the child does not become dependent on them.
Increase Exposure Slowly
Obviously, you cannot keep your child from experiencing triggering sounds for their entire life. This is why it’s important to teach your child how to effectively deal with loud noises. Use exposure therapy techniques (ideally with the assistance of a professional) to help your child become more comfortable with triggering sounds, and go slowly so he or she has time to process their feelings throughout the process.
Listen to Your Child
Perhaps the most important thing you can do as a parent (whether or not your child has autism) is listening to your child’s needs. If your child is overwhelmed by a sound, listen to them. If your child needs help handling their anxiety, listen to their concerns and offer guidance. Empower your child so they feel comfortable telling you what they need. You and your child can successfully navigate their unique experiences with autism if you work together!