Accommodating Children's Auditory Sensitivities
Children with auditory sensitivities may become distressed by background noise and in places where unexpected loud sounds can disturb them: public bathrooms with toilets that flush loudly, parties where balloons pop, and so on. One effective way to help them is to provide earplugs. Contrary to popular belief, earplugs do not block out all sound. They simply reduce overall volume. Foam earplugs are cheap and easily found in drugstores, and you can teach your child with sensory issues how to roll them between her fingers to make them smaller and then insert them into the ear. While you don't want your child to become used to wearing earplugs all the time, in particularly challenging situations they can be a real stress buster for the sensory child with auditory sensitivities.
Noise reduction headphones are another option and especially helpful for concerts and Monster Truck® shows, but also to provide a child with sensory breaks from excess auditory stimulation. Noise cancellation headphones block far more noise than do earplugs so use them judiciously, ideally under the guidance of a sensory smart OT who can set up a sensory diet that incorporates breaks from auditory stimulation.
If background noise makes it difficult for a sensory child to fall asleep or focus on schoolwork, you can use a white noise machine, a radio turned to static, a fan, or an aquarium to provide masking for distressing and distracting sounds. Experiment with music designed specifically to improve focusing, such as Hemi-Sync Metamusic®. New Age music or nature sounds may help some children with SPD focus better, or they may distract them further, depending on your child's unique sensory profile. Work with the child to find the music that enhances his focusing ability. Observe his responses and body language and ask him if the music is helping or hindering him in self-calming and becoming more focused.
One of the common ways to help a child develop higher tolerance for a sensation is through desensitization. Essentially, you expose that child to a small amount of the stimulus, and praise and reward her for tolerating it. Next time, you expose her to it in a slightly more intense way--for more time, or at a greater volume. Let's say your daughter who has auditory sensitivities can't bear the sound of a vacuum cleaner or a school bell. You could have her listen to a recording of it, and each time, increase the volume. Encourage her to take some slow, deep, calming breaths for a minute before listening. If she practices tolerating the sound on, say, a CD like Sound Eaze or School Eaze, available from the Therapy Shoppe and other vendors, she may become better able to handle those sounds in real life--that's the theory behind desensitization.
You'll find more strategies on helping children with auditory processing issues as well as other sensory issues in the award-winning Raising a Sensory Smart Child.
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There's a terrific new book out on being an adult with sensory issues, called Making Sense by Rachel Schneider. So many parents of kids with sensory issues have sensory issues themselves!