Kids who struggle with sensory processing issues can be highly sensitive to noise. This can make everything from grocery shopping to school fire drills a challenge. Your child’s clinicians can help find long-term solutions, but here are some in-the-moment ways to help your child cope with noise sensitivity.
1. Give advance warning.
If there are loud sounds that you know are coming, let your child know what to expect ahead of time. For instance, remind her about the self-flushing toilets and hand dryers in a public restroom. Help her find a place farther away from the noise, if possible.
2. Muffle sounds.
Have earbuds, noise-canceling headphones or earplugs handy. They can provide some protection from noises that can’t be avoided. It may take some experimenting to see which work best. Keep in mind that kids who also have tactile sensitivities might find certain ear protection uncomfortable. And make sure the ear protection just muffles sound. Blocking it out altogether can cause safety concerns.
3. Address safety issues.
If your child’s sensitivity makes it hard for him to filter out unimportant sounds, he might not be as able to tune in to the important ones. Those might include safety warnings like sirens or alarms. Or he might try to get away from those noises quickly without noticing what’s happening around him.
Encourage him to pay attention to what he’s seeing—flashing lights or kids lining up at the door—and to tell an adult if he needs to get away. Practice how to respond in these situations.
4. Problem solve with others.
Talk to your child’s teacher or IEP team about working out a signal to give your child advance warning of planned fire drills. Talk also about strategies like letting your child sit near a door during assemblies so he can slip outside if the noise becomes overwhelming. Create a safety plan for your child so teachers know what to expect and what to do. It can also help if the teacher assigns a classmate to be a “safety buddy.” That student can talk your child through the situation.
5. Take new experiences slowly.
It’s not always possible to avoid places that set off your child’s noise sensitivity. It might help if you introduce him to new places slowly and at quieter times. If you need to bring him with you to the new mega-supermarket, for example, call the store to find out when it’s the least busy. You can also check out new places ahead of time—without your child—so you can tell him what to expect.
6. Help him set boundaries.
The sounds of an action-filled video game or of playful roughhousing can be a stressor for kids with noise sensitivity. Teach your child it’s OK to set boundaries with friends. You can help him plan what to say. For instance, “I like that game, but the sound of the buzzer hurts my ears. Can we play a quieter one?”
7. Use white noise.
For some kids, white noise in the background helps to soften the impact of jarring or annoying sounds. A fan or a white noise machine in your child’s room may help him sleep or study better. When he’s in public, let him try listening to light sounds using earbuds.