You may have noticed your child with their tiny hands clapped up against their ears when you have been vacuuming, or running the garbage disposal.  Sensitivity to noise is normal in children.  This sensitivity is most common in children from birth to about the age of six. Usually the sensitivity to sounds happens with sounds that are loud, unpredictable in onset and duration.  This could be things such as the vacuum cleaner, other children’s screams or cries, hand dryers, emergency sirens or alarms, fireworks, or even traffic noise. 

How sensitive each child is depends on the child, it could be sensitivity to loud noises or all noises.  Children who have a sensitivity to noises do not hear better than the rest of us, they are just trying to process the sensory input of the sound, and it takes them a bit slower. 

This sensitivity does not mean your child has a sensory disorder or illness.  It also may not be a sure symptom of them having autism spectrum syndrome either.  Most sensitivities to sound when your child is young are normal, they are just trying to handle the loud chaotic world around them.  It can be easy at home to deal with this sensitivity, but controlling the loud world around you may be harder. 

 

What is Hyperacusis?

A rare condition that affects 1 in 50,000 children is Hyperacusis.  This is a condition which affects how the brain perceives noise.  Hyperacusis causes the child to have difficulty tolerating sounds that aren’t loud.  This could be water running from a faucet, or walking through leaves. 

All ages can develop Hyperacusis.  It can affect one or both ears.  Some children are born with this condition.  Other causes are heady injury, ear damage, lyme disease, air bag deployment, viral infections, and TMJ syndrome.  Children who have autism, or cerebral palsy may also have Hyperacusis.  Neurological causes can be post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, some forms of epilepsy, depression, and headache migraines.  There is no treatment for hyperacusis. 

Individuals who suffer from this condition may benefit from sound therapy.  Sound therapy may help individuals with their sound tolerance. 

 

Tips For Dealing With Sound Sensitivity

Identify what noises bother your child.  Knowing what sounds affect your child will help you be able to be prepared when you are out and about.  If your child can talk to you this may be easier because they can verbalize what sounds they don’t like.  Non-speaking children will show clues of discomfort when around loud sounds that bother them.  Watching for these clues can help you be more aware. 

When around a sound that bothers your child, move away from the source if possible.  Forcing them to stay near the sound may make their reaction worse.  Make sure you stay calm yourself.  Overreacting to their response can also have a negative reaction, or cause them to overreact themselves.  Sit with them until the sound has stopped calmly then go on.  Talking calmly about the sound can sometimes help.  

Try repeating exposure gently.  Recording sounds that bother your child, then playing them where you can adjust the sound yourself can be helpful.  Then as they get used to the sound at a certain level you can increase the volume.  This is a way you can help desensitize them from the loud sounds that seem to bother them. 

One of the things you want to stay away from is to shelter your child in silence.  Do not sit in silence at home.  Have music on in the background, have the tv on quietly.  Have noise in your home so your child gets used to sounds all around them.  This will help when they are out in the world where there are noises they can’t control all the time.  Put on white noise in the background, this can also help diminish loud sounds that may happen unexpectedly.  

If you have concerns about your child’s sensitivity to sound, you can talk with your pediatrician.  Your doctor may suggest sensory integration therapy.  This is a way to help children use all their senses together.  Can help children who struggle with sensory input.  

Earmuffs or earplugs can be helpful in situations when your child cannot handle any level of noise.  This can help when you may be in a loud situation for a long time.  If at a loud party or something, make sure you take breaks with your child.  Stepping them away from noise may help them actually last longer in the situation. 

Prepare your child for loud noises.  Warning them calmly that something may be noisy can help them not be so caught off guard.  You can also have some things prepped for problem solving in case of a meltdown from a loud noise.  

Usually children learn to cope better with loud noises as they get older.  It may take a few years before your toddler will watch fireworks, or go to the movies.  Be patient.  Don’t put pressure on them.  

 

Takeaway

Children under the age of six have a normal sensitivity to loud, unexpected sounds.  It does not have to mean they have a sensory disorder, illness, or a sign of autism.  Loud sounds that happen unexpectedly and last for different times each time can be troublesome.  If you have concerns about extreme sensitivity you may want to speak with your pediatrician.  Be patient with your child, this phase will soon pass.

 

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