In order to understand why children with autism may be loud, we must consider the perspective of autistic individuals themselves.
Some autistic adults explain that they perceive all noises at the same volume, even background noises like wind in the trees or a plane flying overhead. For kids with autism, often covering their ears is a knee-jerk reaction when annoyed by sounds. It is suggested that making noises themselves may help to compete with or drown out another distracting noise.
Another reason a child may make constant noises could simply be that humming, singing, talking, or making other sounds is calming and self-regulating for their nervous systems. Making noise requires a child to breathe in a regular and rhythmic way, which provides a relaxing input to their bodies. Vocalizing is an oral activity which is often calming. And listening to the sounds they make may actually help them to feel more relaxed. Whatever the reason, making noises is a strategy that works to help children with autism self-regulate, so requiring them to stop making noises may be dysregulating and upsetting to them.
A problem that arises however, is when the noises are so loud that they are distracting to other students. As an OT with auditory sensitivities myself, I have found a few strategies that work with autistic students:
1- When a child is mainstreamed, I may explain to the neurotypical students (with the parent and/or child’s permission) that for kids with autism vocalizations may be very calming to them. Often this helps the other kids to understand and accommodate to the situation.
2- Provide the child with other, very intense sensory experiences. This can be heavy work like doing active movement breaks with jumping jacks, pushing his desk to another spot, extra recess, or running on a track. Chewing gum is another idea. Also, prior to school, heavy, intense movement may bring their autonomic nervous system into a state in which they are more calm and ready to learn.
3- Allow the child opportunities to listen to his favorite music on headphones. This strategy has been successful with several children I have worked with over the years. Plus, an added bonus is that it is a joyful experience for a child and often shifts their state of mind to very happy and engaged!
4- Begin to teach children how to modulate their voice through motivating and engaging activities. I have taught children this concept by playing loud games such as “Red Light! Green Light!” During this time I may ask a child to listen to my voice and tell me if I am loud or quiet. Then I have the child take a turn speaking, and I tell him if he is loud or quiet. It is fun for them when I purposefully get this wrong.
5- Designate times of day and places where a child is allowed to be as loud as he wants.
As always, feel welcome to touch base with me, Dr. Lisa Marnell, OT, by e-mail at KidsMasterSkills@gmail.com I would love to hear about your successes, your struggles, and any questions or comments you have!
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