The world is a noisy place. Heck, sometimes I wish I had noise-cancelling headphones. But if your child has Autism, SPD or APD, being out in noise can be brutal. These various conditions can make it near impossible to process what someone is saying if there is a lot of background noise. And, sometimes just the sheer volume of noise or conflicting sounds can be sensory overload for people with autism.
So, it’s becoming more and more common to see kids and adults wearing sound-canceling headphones out in public. Which, at first, might seem like you’re making a public announcement, right?
Celebrities and Sound-Canceling Headphones
Celebrities wear noise-canceling headphones all the time. Particularly athletes. They use them for the same reason autistic people need them–to block out noise and distractions so that they can focus.
It makes no sense to me that athletes can do this and be cool, yet some feel the need to bully our kids for it.
If someone has a problem with someone wearing headphones out in public, that’s their problem. Not yours.
Choosing Headphones for your Autistic Child
I would engage the wearer in the purchase as much as possible. They need to like the way they look and the way they feel on the head. I’m also a huge fan of reading customer reviews online. Go to the store if you can and try them out. Do you want just muffling of the sounds around them? Or are you going to connect them to a device so that they can hear preferred sounds or music?
Ask about the return policy, particularly if they are out of the package.
How do you know which ones are best? You’re just going to have to try and see what you like.
Decibel Ratings: Sound Canceling Headphones
When doing your research, you want to know how many decibels of sound will be canceled. The average conversation is about 60 decibels, but sustained listening to 85 decibels or more can cause hearing loss and damage.
You also want to educate yourself (especially if you’re buying a pretty expensive pair) on noise-canceling vs. noise isolating. Noise isolating headphones block ambient noise with a seal against your ear, while noise canceling ones cancels the actual sound waves.
This is also what makes some headphones much more expensive than others. You’re paying for the blocking and for high quality sound/music to come out of the headphone. The headphones with just one feature will be far less money.
Saving Money on Headphones
These can be super expensive! But, I will say this. My husband has the good ones made by Microsoft to go with the Surface. And, they work much better than the pair I got at Five Below. You have to find the best you can at your price point.
I have not heard of anyone being successful at getting insurance to pay for noise-canceling headphones. However, I have had OTs give them to clients/patients and I’m sure they billed for them somehow. Sensory tends to be an OT kind of thing, so that is where I would start if you wish to pursue this. Ask your child’s OT.
And, some of the cheaper ones are only $20-$40 so it may not even be worth it to fight your insurance company.
Won’t earbuds work just as well?
They might. Try them. The technology has come a long way in the past decade. My son wears ear buds to play Xbox and do things on his phone and he can’t hear me when I talk to him. Or at least he does a very good job of pretending he can’t hear me.
But the nature of earbuds means that their very structure may not allow for enough sound blocking. Keep in mind that ear buds and ear plugs are very small and can be a choking hazard.
Reverse Hearing Aids
If your situation cannot be resolved with earbuds or headphones, contact an Audiologist. It won’t be cheap, but you can have ear plugs and things specially made and molded for your ears. Professional musicians and others get them all the time. They need to hear some specific sounds, like the sound of their voice or instrument, but do not want the long-term hearing damage that comes with being a live music performer.
Accommodation on the IEP?
It goes without saying, but only buy a pair that you’re willing to replace if they are lost or stolen. Or, consider a “good” pair of headphones for when your child is with you, and a cheap pair to take to school. Fact is, many of these sound-canceling headphones are a status symbol because all the athletes wear them. Our kids are already a target for bullying. Let’s not make them a target for theft too.
Noise Canceling Headphones for Autism
These can be found at Fun and Function and come in lots of colors. According to their video, noise reduction rate is about 20 decibels.
I’ve included these Blue headphones next because I am so pleased with my Blue microphone for my podcast. All of their stuff is affordable and has a cool retro look to it.
Sol Republic: Above, shown on Michael Phelps. They’re pretty affordable too.
These Master and Dynamic headphones come in affordable to very expensive models. The brown is good if you want them to blend in with hair and not be so noticeable.
Or maybe plain black and brown is not your thing. In that case, check out these from Bose.
Ok, now we’re getting fancy. Around here, all the middle school boys want Beats by Dre. First, these put out sound, not just cancel it. That doesn’t mean that you have to hook it up to something. Because this is what you’re getting for more money: Pure ANC is a form of noise cancellation that uses advanced algorithms to monitor the sounds around you and adjust the level of noise cancellation to best match your environment. Pure ANC also evaluates fit and adjusts for leakage caused by hair, glasses, the shape of your ear, and movement of your head as you go about the day.
The other cool thing about Beats is that you can get them so many places. Even Target and QVC carry them now.
Well, that’s 7! Your student will be thrilled with their new headphones, I’m sure. And hopefully it will help them manage their noisy situations better too. Good luck, and hear are some deals from merchants who sell noise canceling headphones for autism.
Bothered by that “L”? Me too! But it turns out that both canceled/cancelled and canceling/cancelling are both acceptable! Cancellation, however….that gets 2 Ls. Always.