What Everyone Ought To Know About Autism and Noise Sensitivity
“Sudden loud noises hurt my ears – like a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve…High-pitched continuous noise, such as bathroom vent fans or hair dryers,are annoying.I have two choices: 1) turn my ears on and get deluged with sound or 2)shut my ears off." Temple Grandin, article, An Inside View of Autism.
This thread on Wrong Planet is over four pages long. It all started when someone asked, “Is sensitivity to noise a part of Aspergers Syndrome or could it be something else?"
I have odd sensitivity to noise…. On the TV spoken word needs to be at a higher volume…. anything with a high bass needs to be low volume, I can hear my roommates walk barefoot down a carpeted hallway, but half the time I cannot hear if someone is calling my name from 2 feet away.
Led Zepplin can be blaring in my earbuds, but I can still hear the conversation being carried out 20 feet behind me. Along with paper shuffling and tapping.
An audiology research journal article quoted a study [Stiegler, L., & Davis, R. (2010). Understanding sound sensitivity in people with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 20 (10), 1–9] which stated that one of the most commonly reported challenge for people with autism spectrum conditions is hypersensitivity to noise. Anthony Ianni described being unable to attend birthday parties as a child because of noise overwhelm.
A Small Sample Of What Noise Sensitivity Can Be Like For People With Autism
I have Asperger’s and SPD and don’t see my sensory problems expressed in this video. The sensory reality that leads to overload is chaotic, unpredictable, confusing and meaningless… whereas this video is rhythmic, predictable, an ordered pattern, almost like music (not pretty music, but still). Whoever made this couldn’t resist the temptation to make music when given a multitude of sounds to play with:-) That is understandable, but it doesn’t illustrate sensory overload.
Why Are People With Autism Sensitive to Noise?
On the one hand, audiologists haven’t been find many differences in the peripheral or central auditory of people with ASD as compared to their peers. On the other hand, imaging studies suggest that, for people on the spectrum, researchers have found differences in the temporal lobe of the brain, the cortical area that helps with auditory processing.
Other researchers hypothesize that strong avoidance to certain sounds and noises may be learned responses that are either fear or annoyance based.
Audiologists have found that people on the spectrum may have enhanced perception to certain sounds, impaired perception of other sounds, or a combination of hyper (overly sensitive) or hypo (unable to pick up on) sensitivity to sounds.
Someone who is hyposensitive may only hear sounds in one ear; may not acknowledge certain sounds; or might seek out loud, crowded, and noisy places.
Someone who is hypersensitive may hear sound as magnified, and the sound may become magnified and distorted; may be super sensitive to a certain sound or sounds at a distance; or may have a hard time concentrating because s/he is very sensitive to background noise.
Dealing with Autism and Noise Sensitivity
Take a Break from Sound
I read threads from Wrong Planet and on Quora to learn what people with Aspergers and autism use to take a break from sound.
Here are some resources they shared, and others I researched on Amazon.com, which I’m passing along to you.
Hyperacusis (also spelled hyperacousis) is a health condition characterized by an over-sensitivity to certain frequency and volume ranges of sound (a collapsed tolerance to usual environmental sound).
Common Treatment is listening to broadband pink noise through sound generators (special hearing aids), which must be ordered through a specially trained doctor or audiologist who administers Hyperacusis (Tinnitus) Retraining Therapy.Cost is $3-4K, typically not covered by insurance.The Expensive Route – To learn more about TRT you might consider reading Dr. Jastreboff’s book “Tinnitus Retraining Therapy.” A list of TRT clinicians can be seen by visiting this website: http://www.tinnitus-pjj.com/referral.htmlB) The second way one can deliver broadband pink noise to their ears would be to purchase the broadband pink noise CD from the network. (Not an affiliate link). Read this article for more details about how to listen to the pink noise.
“Recruitment is the a rapid growth of perceived loudness for sounds in the pitch region of a person who has hearing loss.” definition via the Hyperacusis Network
Common treatment is the same as it is for hyperacusis unless the persons hearing loss is so pronounced that listening to broadband pink noise would be of no benefit to them.
Hypersensitive Hearing (Of Specific Frequencies)
Condition characterized by beingsound sensitive at birth but it is only specific to certain frequencies heard at loud levels (typically above 70 decibels).
Phonophobia -(fear of sound) is an adverse emotional response to sound and often develops with a person who has a significant collapsed tolerance to sound.Misophonia (dislike of sound) is also an adverse response to sound no matter what volume the sound is.Typically misophonia characterizes a person who reacts strongly to soft sounds and sometimes is further triggered by seeing the source of the offending sound.Common examples would include but are not limited to:the sound of people eating, smacking their lips, sniffing, the sound of certain consonants like p, s, or t, and repetitive sounds.definitions via the Hyperacusis Network
You can also contact the Hyperacusis Network via their mail or emailing address:
The Hyperacusis Network
4417 Anapula Lane
Green Bay, WI 54311
Therapeutic Exposure to Noise? (See Comments at The End of This Article)
Koegel, Oppenon, and Koegel (2004) demonstrated that systematic desensitization by exposing children with ASD who had extreme reactions to household appliances, musical toys, and toilets helped these children increasingly tolerate these sounds. They gradually exposed the children more often to these sounds, and gave simple rewards for tolerating exposure longer. Caregivers and clinicians (Prizant and Meyer, 1993) provided reassuring messages through words and/or visuals that target sounds are ‘safe’ or ‘okay’.
As an autistic adult, you can practice exposure on your own.
Here’s a free Exposure homework sheet. List the sounds that are hardest to tolerate, from least stressful to most stressful. Practice exposing yourself to the noise. You may also want to set a timer for yourself to see how long you can tolerate the noise.
Once you’re able to tolerate the less stressful noise, move on to the next one.
As you learn to tolerate noise, you’ll become less stressed out and more able to handle different environments.
Computer Aided Exposure
This study extensively summarizes research literature on the causes of autism sensitivity to noise, current audiologist interventions, and then proposes a new way to expose children to uncomfortable noises in a way that is actually fun.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."