Hyper-auditory: Resources or equipment to support
It could be argued that hypersensitivity to the noise is the most well-known sensory issue in terms of autism. Whilst this is a good place to start in terms of public understanding of autism and sensory processing, it does mean it sometimes overshadows over sensory needs.
Regardless, the world can be a noisy place and when you’re hypersensitive to noise it can make that world so much harder to navigate. On the plus side, because there is more awareness of auditory hypersensitivity, there are also more resources.
Ear Defenders/Ear Plugs
Perhaps an obvious place to start, but an important one. Ear defenders come in all sorts of shapes and sizes to fit different heads and to accommodate preferences. Ear plug come in a range of material including foam, wax and plastic. These options also have the advantage of being relatively cheap. I wear a pair of Silverline eardefenders that I bought from Amazon for about £7, and use plastic travel ear plugs that cost £3 and can be thoroughly cleaned and reused.
Noise cancelling headphones have the distinct advantage here, but there should be caution in providing headphones with music playing if the individual has difficulties with awareness of their surroundings. Music can be great for blocking out noises that would otherwise overwhelm us but it’s also very easy to miss the dangers around us when we do. There have been a number of non-autistic people killed because they were so focused on their music they didn’t take in danger – make sure you teach safety as well as providing this tool.
Noise cancelling headphones can be brilliant on their own, without music. I have a pair of Lindy NC40 provided via my Disabled Student’s Allowance (for use with another piece of kit I’ll mention later) and they are around £40 RRP. They’re not fantastic but they make a noticeable difference to my ability to function without getting overloaded. They block out a fair bit of background noise whilst retaining your ability to hear speech. The often quoted “Gold Standard” for noise cancelling headphones are the Bose QuietComforts but they come in at about £250 new. Which is a lot of money to put down on headphones. Headphones are typically one area where you get what you pay for, but you may still see enormous benefits with some of the lower cost items.
Roger Focus and Roger Pens
Disclaimer – these aren’t likely to be things most people can afford to buy out of pocket BUT I received this through my Disabled Students Allowance, so others may be able to use similar disability money. The Roger Pen was typically designed for individuals with hearing impairments – the speaker either wears the pen or you point it at them and it transmits to a receiver you wear around your neck. For individuals who wear hearing aids, the receiver then links to the hearing aids and allows them to hear the speakers more clearly. For autism there are two main options: the first is the Roger Focus receiver – which are hearing aids specifically designed for use with the Roger Pen, which have been designed and adapted following feedback from autistic students. The second is the method I use which is to use a cable to link my noise cancelling headphones up to the receiver – and the impact it has is incredible. If you are entitled to disability allowance of any sort – worth looking into these.
Access to a Quiet Space
Whether at school or at home – the option for an individual with hyperhearing to retreat to a quiet space where they can self-regulate is an important one. At school it might be beneficial to teach the student to use “Quiet Time” cards such as this. If there is a persistent noise then the student can take their work down to the Quiet Space and complete their work there – usually with guidance or support from a teaching assistant. Otherwise, a short time out to self-regulate might be what they need to come back and re-engage with the lesson – perhaps with one of the afore mentioned resources offered.
Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such