Sensitivity to loud noises could be, but is not necessarily, a sign of sensory integration difficulties. Because children are often more startled by loud or sudden noises than adults, it is important to look for strong reactions, such as grimacing instead of curiosity. Sounds that are irrelevant to you can cause anxiety and stress to someone with a sensory processing disorder.
Children with SPD often find it difficult to filter out background noise. The sound of dishes being washed while the TV is playing and someone is speaking in the room can be an overwhelming amount of auditory stimuli for your child. He/she may exhibit “sensory defensiveness,” by lashing out or running away from the situation in order to defend him/herself from the overstimulation.
If your child is hypersensitive to noise, this doesn’t mean you can never be in a loud environment! There is an easy way to help your child feel more comfortable.
Headphones for Sensory Overload
Many children, with or without sensory processing disorders, wear noise-reduction headphones in certain environments. You may have seen kids at a concert or party wearing a pair (and perhaps even wished for some yourself). These over-ear headphones control the actual noise level processed by the ear.
Filtering the decibel level helps children with hypersensitivity to environmental noise focus better on tasks and avoid sensory defensive behaviors. Often these headphones also lower anxiety levels, as a result of decreased auditory stimulation.
We recommend you opt for a pair of noise reduction headphones, not noise canceling, as blocking out all sound prevents children from hearing important sounds, such as you calling their name.
When to Wear Noise Reduction Headphones
Your child’s needs will dictate when and how often to break out the headphones. Some popular times to use them include
Large family gatherings
School auditorium or cafeteria
Playgrounds and amusement parks