Signs Your Asd Child Is Struggling With Sound Sensitivity
In both very young and older children with autism, it can be hard to detect if sound sensitivity is occurring. Its important to look out for the signs so that you can make the necessary changes to daily life. Talking to your child is, of course, important but you can also figure out a lot from his/her behavioral responses to different stimuli.
Its also important to take time to understand what a child is experiencing when he/she hears distressing levels of noise. While a particular noise might sound comfortable and unnoteworthy to you, it may be incredibly painful to a child with autism. When sensory overload occurs, its like a build-up of information that a child with autism may struggle to process. Processing the infinite supply of information we receive through our senses is an essential part of being human and failing to do so effectively can be deeply confusing and distressing. As the fight or flight response kicks in, its natural for a child experiencing this phenomena to act out, run away, or shut down completely.
Theres no definitive list of all the responses a child may have to sound sensitivity. Every child is unique and yours may exhibit quite different behavior to another child experiencing the same thing. However, there are some common features to look out for. If your child shows any of these signs, especially in an unusually noisy situation, then he/she is likely to be experiencing sound sensitivity.
Autism And Anxiety: Loud Noises
Our 12-year-old son has autism, mild intellectual disability and anxiety attacks so severe that we end up in the emergency room. Loud noises are the worst for example the school fire alarm, thunderstorms, a balloon popping, fireworks. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
This weeks Got Questions? answer is by Judy Reaven, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Childrens Hospital Colorado, in Denver. Dr. Reavens conducted research on the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety in adolescents with autism, with the support of an Autism Speaks research grant.
Editors note: The following information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as appropriate, with a qualified healthcare professional and/or behavioral therapist.
Thanks for the great question. It certainly sounds like your family is experiencing a very difficult situation. Anxiety symptoms and reactions are very common in individuals with autism spectrum disorder . They can interfere with functioning across home, community and school settings.
Although your sons reaction sounds more severe than most, many people with autism struggle with a range of fears, phobias and worries. These can range from a debilitating fear of, say, spiders or the dark to chronic anxiety about making mistakes or being late.
Can You Hear Me Now
One research group administered a battery of tests to find out. They detected no difference in the hearing of children with and without autism at least in tests that did not require a behavioral response from the children.
However, things got trickier when they administered a test that required the children to indicate by their behavior that they heard a particular sound. In those tests, 41 percent of the children with ASD acted as though they didnt hear normally at least once.15 They repeated the tests, and got different results on some of the same children. This failure to respond normally and consistently to sound may be caused by a problem with attention, rather than with hearing or sensory processing, they and other scientists have theorized.15-17
That research group cautioned parents and teachers that children with autism may appear to have abnormal hearing on tests that require a behavioral response, even though their hearing is fine. They also said their findings may undercut some of the assumptions behind a “highly controversial treatment, auditory integration training ” that claims to treat the “auditory ‘difficulty'” of children with autism. That’s because children with autism may perform unreliably on behavioral hearing tests that might be given before and after AIT.15
But where does that leave people with autism who prefer treatments that have solid scientific proof behind them?
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What Do Autism Symptoms Mean
What are some aspects of life that are difficult for people on the autistic spectrum?
Sound. Intense sensitivity to sound is a common autism symptom.
Loud noises may be painful. The din of a city street or a mall can be too much. When overwhelmed, people on the autistic spectrum may cover their ears to try to block out the noise. They may also start up self-soothing behaviors such as rocking or shaking their hands. Some people with autism also have central auditory processing disorder , a condition that makes it difficult for them to perceive subtle differences in sound and language.
Touch. Just like sound, physical sensations can be exaggerated and overwhelming to people with autism. Feelings that most people barely register — the sensation of clothing on the body, a breeze — can be unpleasant.
Janice McGreevy, of Browns Mills, NJ, has an 8-year-old son with autism. Since age 1, his haircuts have been a terrible ordeal, but only recently could he explain why. âHe told me that the individual hairs, when they touch his skin, feel like needles,â she says.
Communication. Difficulty communicating is a common autism symptom â one of the early signs of the condition is a delay in speech. But this doesnât indicate a lack of intelligence. Instead, many children with autism simply canât discern how language works. That can be terribly difficult and isolating.
Restricted Or Repetitive Behaviors Or Interests
People with ASD have behaviors or interests that can seem unusual. These behaviors or interests set ASD apart from conditions defined by only problems with social communication and interaction.
Examples of restricted or repetitive interests and behaviors related to ASD can include:
- Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed
- Repeats words or phrases over and over
- Plays with toys the same way every time
- Is focused on parts of objects
- Gets upset by minor changes
- Has obsessive interests
- Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles
- Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
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Allow Control Over Some Types Of Noise
At its heart, anxiety is a fear of being unable to control reactions and situations. When my son had a phobia of bells, I gave him several different types of bells to handle and experiment with at home. When we saw bells at customer service desks or in other public places, I allowed him to ring the bell. He gradually became comfortable with the sounds, and he even began identifying speaker systems, alarm systems and other sources of sounds everywhere we went.
Signs And Symptoms Of Autism Light Sensitivity
Sensitivity to light can manifest in different ways for people with autism. For instance, physical symptoms may include:3
- Lower tolerance for light
- Discomfort from fluorescents and other artificial light
- Light avoidance behaviors
- Visual snow
- Headaches or migraines triggered by light5,6
Other signs may include repetitive behaviors as well as poor eye contact or eye movement. Increased anxiety is also reported autism-related sensory deficits this is reinforced by broader clinical studies showing that light exposure can be a prominent source of anxiety in sensitive individualsyou can read more about this connection here. What is worse is that these types of sensory disruptions can lead to social problems and worsening educational outcomes, at least for school-aged autistics.2
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How To Apply Exposure Therapy For Noise At Home
If you would like to attempt to implement exposure therapy for noise at home, you can follow the steps below:
These exercises will help you to build tolerance for the sound and decrease your hypersensitivity.
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Alternate Noisy And Quiet
I discovered that my sons tolerance for noise increased the most when I scheduled frequent quiet breaks. After a morning out doing errands, we enjoyed a quiet lunch at home. After a playgroup with 7 other children, we made time to snuggle on the sofa. When we felt brave enough to visit a large theme park, we booked a hotel inside the park so that we could retreat as often as necessary. We always take a break before the noise upsets him, so that he will want to return for more fun after resting.
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Fluorescent Lighting And Autism
Certain types of lighting, specifically fluorescent lighting, has been shown to have a particularly negative affect on individuals with autism. Approximately half of autistic individuals experience what is classified as a severe sensitivity to fluorescent lighting. In fact, one small study found that the use of fluorescent lighting increased the repetitive behaviors of children with autism, which may be attributed to a hypersensitivity to fluorescent light flicker.1,7 Another small study reported similar results noting that fluorescent lighting increased the frequency of stereotypical repetitive behaviors in autistic children.8
What Is The Fear Of Sudden Loud Noises
A better long term strategy is to:
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Social Attention In Autism: Neural Sensitivity To Speech Over Background Noise Predicts Encoding Of Social Information
- 1Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
- 2Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
- 3Staglin IMHRO Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Signs And Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition. Other causes are not yet known. Scientists believe there are multiple causes of ASD that act together to change the most common ways people develop. We still have much to learn about these causes and how they impact people with ASD.
There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people. They may behave, communicate, interact, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The abilities of people with ASD can vary significantly. For example, some people with ASD may have advanced conversation skills whereas others may be nonverbal. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives others can work and live with little to no support.
ASD begins before the age of 3 years and can last throughout a persons life, although symptoms may improve over time. Some children show ASD symptoms within the first 12 months of life. In others, symptoms may not show up until 24 months or later. Some children with ASD gain new skills and meet developmental milestones, until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had.
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Is Sensitivity To Loud Noises A Sign Of Autism
One of the worries parents have is that this sensitivity could be a sign of their baby suffering from autism spectrum disorders. This is true, but only to a certain extent sound sensitivity is rarely the only symptom of autism. Studies tell us that 30 to 90% of people who have autism either ignore sounds or overreact to them. This also applies to ordinary sights, smells, or other sensations. Researchers say that no one single type of sensory problem is consistently associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you notice your child is highly sensitive to sound, visit a pediatric specialist or audiologist to get professional advice before you jump to conclusions.
Even something as simple as the TV being too loud could upset your child.
What Do We Know About Noise Sensitivity In Autism
Donald was “perfectly petrified of the vacuum cleaner.” So was Elaine, who would not venture near the closet where her familys vacuum was stored. Richard, Barbara and Virginia, on the other hand, ignored sound to the point that others wondered if they were deaf.1
These were autisms first children,2 described in the landmark 1943 article by Leo Kanner that gave a name and description to a disorder that now affects 1 in 68 American children.3 Dr. Kanner, an American psychiatrist, created a new diagnosis for these children, some of whom had been assumed to have intellectual disability.
Among other things, most of the children he studied shared an unusual relationship to sound either ignoring or fearing it. Today, under- or over- reacting to ones own senses is a symptom of autism spectrum disorder , according to the American psychiatric diagnostic manual published in 2013.4 These senses include sight, touch, smell, movement and taste, but for many people, the stereotypical image of autism involves the sense of hearing. It’s the image of a child with his hands covering his ears, blocking out noise. In fact, that’s what Elaine did when she heard the rumble of the vacuum cleaner. Today she would be called hyper-responsive to noise. Richard, Barbara and Virginia would be described as hypo-responsive, because they barely acknowledged many sounds.
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Noise Control: 11 Tips For Helping Your Child With Autism Deal With Noise
One of my sons most frequent questions is, Whats that sound, Mommy?
I often cant hear what hes hearing. He can hear the school bus when its still half a mile from our house. With all the windows closed inside our home, he can hear the next-door neighbors sump pump switch on or their garage door opening. He can hear a whisper in the next room or an air vent in a busy department store or an airplanes high-pitched engine long before its visible in the sky. At a noisy carnival, he can hear his favorite song playing across the park.
The downside to sound sensitivity is that noise quickly becomes painful and can even trigger a panic attack. When a person can hear everything simultaneously, it becomes almost impossible to pay attention to the task at hand. Separating and prioritizing sounds drains a persons energy, and the constant assault of noise causes a persons anxiety level to escalate.
When my son was a toddler, he had a panic attack every time our washing machine clicked loudly to change cycles. He developed a phobia of all types of bells. He covered his ears and cried in crowds. But he became calm, even joyful, every single time we went for a walk in the woods, visited the library or entered any kind of religious environment: his stiff, tight muscles would relax instantly in my arms.
Hypersensitivity In Individuals With Autism
Some individuals with autism are hypersensitive, so seeing, hearing or feeling something makes them feel bad. They can wave their hands, slide back and forth, or make strange noises to activate their senses. Children with extreme sensitivity may have trouble understanding where the objects are, just when they see the outline, they can turn the edges around the objects so they realize what is happening. Individuals with autism with this feature can look at the lights, focus on the sun or a bright bulb. When they enter an unusual room, they have to touch everything to sit around.
Hypersensitivity in individuals with autism means that individuals with autism have very sharp views. For example, they can pay attention to the most fluffy pieces on the carpet, they complain about dust flying in the air, they do not like bright lights, and they may even be afraid of sharp light flashes. Children with autism may even notice the flickering of light under fluorescent lights and for them the whole room flickers.
Individuals with hyper-listening sensitivity often sleep very lightly, are afraid of sudden unpredictable sounds , terrified by storms, crowds, and haircuts. They often cover their ears when the noise is painful for them, but others in the room may not be aware of any disturbing noises. Sometimes overly emotional children make repetitive sounds to prevent other disturbing sounds.
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Understanding The Variations Of Noise Anxiety
Hypersensitivity to noise is somewhat of a broad term as sensitivity may cause varying responses. Depending on the way a person experiences anxiety, the triggering noise may cause minor irritation or something much more impairing.
Generally, the following represent auditory hypersensitivity. Remember, your experience may be different from others experiences: