Saturday, April 19, 2008

Noise Sensitivity for Children with Autism

It is difficult to determine how much noise really affects children with Autism but, it certainly seems to have an adverse effect on a majority of them.

When Kathleen first started showing signs of Autism, at first, I thought that she had a hearing deficit as she wouldn't turn her head when I called her name and if I banged two spoons together behind her, she didn't get startled or look to see where the noise originated from.

When she started stacking blocks and lining up all the animals in the house however, I had my answer.

A number of children with Autism can't stand the noise of common things like vacuums and lawn mowers leading them to have massive size meltdowns when these activities are being performed. It is not so hard to adjust your schedule around the needs of your child but it is a little difficult to try to explain to the people two doors down that your child can't handle the sound of their lawnmower and could they please warn you in advance so that you can plan for the inevitable meltdown.

Sometimes desensitization can enable your child with Autism to cope a little better with the noise.

When they were smaller, I kept a radio running 24/7.

At first, it was only on very softly and of course it was on an easy listening channel not something that was designed to shock their ears. I kept this up for several months before turning the volume up just a wee bit higher. This continued in minute increments for some time and I am pleased to say that usually normal noises do not bother my children.

However, currently we live fairly close to a railway track and that took some getting used to as it is a busy line and trains travel through town frequently throughout the day and they blow their whistles. Really, really loudly!

To start, the children would get upset and scream when outside when the trains blew their whistles. I found that if I heard them coming and covered up the children's ears, that helped a wee bit but not really enough so it was back to desensitizing.

First off they were kept inside. We can still hear the trains from inside the house but it is somewhat muted.
Then I cracked the kitchen window open a bit. Once again, a little muted but louder than before.
This went on for a bit and the window kept getting opened wider and wider and then I advanced to the back door.

Now I am pleased to say that none of my children with Autism are bothered greatly by the train.
My 4 yr old is still a little shy of them but she doesn't run to me as often now to hold her ears.

Assembly time at school is a little trial for John. There is a lot of noise and the gym echoes. Some days he handles it better than others. Ear phones were trialed for a while.

The nice thing about John is that he can now tell you if it is too loud and request to leave. This avoids potential behaviour problems and is a lot more comfortable for him.

Last year I took him to the Halloween party at the elementary school and I will say that the music was too loud even for me. He walked in there, covered his ears and said "mum, I can't handle this, there's too much noise. Can I go home?"
So he was taken immediately home.

I don't know if it the volume of the noises so much as the fact that there is just so much going on and it is too busy when you add volume. I know for a fact that John can hear what people say when they are standing next to him, meanwhile he is also hearing what people are saying standing apart from him and also what others are saying a distance away, all the while hearing all the environmental noises. A regular person can block out all the other noises and just listen to the one conversation while still being aware that there is other things going on.
An Autistic person seems to hear everything at the same time and to try and process that all at once must be really mind blowing.

Desensitizing takes a bit of time and energy but for the Autistic child's comfort, I think that it is well worth it.


Full Soul Now! said...

We did something called Berard Auditory Integration therapy and it really helped with my daughter's sound sensitivities.

It is a two week listening program. Twice a day. Non-invasive,no harmful side effects, (except to your wallet).

donna mason said...

Sounds a lot like Auditory Integration Therapy. It was/is too pricey for me. Any other ideas I would sure love to hear them. Thanks Donna

beautifullyinane said...

Helpful post. Thank you!

jlew16 said...

Hey Donna! Great post...I'm curious about your thoughts on a topic. I've got a boy with autism and my wife and I have been reading anything we can get our hands on. Anyways I'm also a Firefighter here in AZ. My boy loves everything about fire trucks except the sirens! Through my union we have tossed around the idea of getting involved in the Autism awareness month...we were thinking about having a day where we would invite any autistic kids to the station and offer a Desensatising of the sirens. We love the idea so I searched Google and found your blog...couldn't find a email address so I thought I would just email is

Thanks and keep up the good work!


Donna Jackson said...

Hello Donna! My name is Donna as well and I have a 12 yr old daughter with autism. She seems to go into extreme tantrum when my husband and I start talking. I ended up on your page trying to figure out what a noise sensitivity is. Extremely helpful blog. Thanks Donna!