Autism and Sensory Processing Issues
The presence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a child is often accompanied by behavioral challenges, difficulties with social interaction and struggles with communication. Sometimes, however, ASD presents, along with these symptoms, aversions, and sensitivities to related to the senses.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is sometimes co-diagnosed along with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a disorder that causes an individual to have difficulties processing sensory information such as sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Individuals may be over-sensitive (hyper) or under-sensitive (hypo) to environmental information.
When it comes to Autism, taking in too many environmental stimuli can cause stress, anxiety, meltdowns, challenging behaviors or a complete shutdown of the individual. Apart from SPD, a child with Autism may experience a condition called “misophonia” which literally translates into “a hatred of sound” and may react emotionally to certain noises. They may also experience “phonophobia” in which they experience an intense fear of specific sounds.
Noise sensitivity is common in children with ASD – if your child has Autism, or you know one who does, you may notice adverse reactions to loud and sudden noises such as vacuum cleaners, toilets, and doorbells. They may either display avoidant behaviors such as covering their ears or running away. However, they may become defensive and lash out or scream to deal with the auditory overload.
Even if your child does not have ASD, you may notice they have certain aversions to noise and sound and are probably wondering when you should worry. If the sensitivity hinders everyday life and social interactions, do not hesitate to contact a medical professional. Otherwise, it may simply be a developmental stage that they will grow out of as they mature.
If your child does have a Sensory Processing Disorder or a hatred or fear of sound, you can try the following strategies to help alleviate their stress and anxiety:
1. Know the triggers.
Pay attention to the noises that cause your child to become anxious or upset. The more you know about what causes these reactions, the more you can prepare yourself and your child to cope with them.
2. Provide relief.
Noise-canceling headphones are a common tool for children with ASD who experience noise sensitivities. Although doctors do not recommend overusing these headphones (in case your child develops a dependency on them), they are a great method to provide relief to your child in extreme situations such as prolonged exposure to auditory stimulation, such as eating out or grocery shopping.
3. Make time for quiet.
By assuring that your child has periodic moments of quiet, you are allowing their overloading systems to reset. Make sure to prepare moments in your day in which your child can sit quietly without any auditory disturbances.
4. Give warnings and time to prepare.
If your child fears the sound of the toilet, let them know when you are about to flush to give them an opportunity to cover their ears or seek a quiet area.
Whether or not your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, if you have any concerns about noise sensitivities be sure to speak with your child’s doctor regarding any stress and anxiety your child may experience related to specific sounds. Also, be sure to leverage technology such as noise-cancelling headphones or a RingPatrol to limit stimuli in your own environment.