The world is a noisy place. Heck, sometimes I wish I had noise-canceling headphones. But if your child has Autism, ADHD, or anxiety disorder, being out in noise can be brutal. These various conditions can make it nearly impossible to process what someone is saying if there is a lot of background noise.

If it's good enough for LeBron, it's good enough for my kid. (and they're pink!)
If it’s good enough for LeBron, it’s good enough for my kid. (and they’re pink!)

And, sometimes just the sheer volume of noise or conflicting sounds can be sensory overload for people with autism.

Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones

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?

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Not necessarily.

Autism 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. To avoid sensory overload.

Michael Phelps has been very open about his struggles with ADHD, so it's no surprise he wears sound-canceling headphones.
Michael Phelps uses Sol Republic headphones to assist with his ADHD.

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.

The colors on these headphones are so fun!
Movie stars too! Reese Witherspoon wears Skull Candy.

If someone has a problem with someone wearing headphones out in public, that’s their problem. Not yours.

Justin Bieber has been very open about his struggles with mental illness (and he wears Beats!).
Justin Bieber has been very open about his struggles with mental illness (and he wears Beats!).

Choosing the Best Headphones for your ADHD 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.

Sound Canceling Headphones for Sensory Overload

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.

Too much sound or noise for someone with ADHD can result in a number of other issues.

Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolating Headphones

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 cancel 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. Technology has come a long way in the past decade. My son wears earbuds 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 earbuds and earplugs 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 earplugs 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.

The fact is, many of these sound-canceling headphones are a status symbol because all the athletes wear them. Our kids are already a target of bullying. Let’s not make them a target for theft too.

Yes, I have had many clients have noise-canceling headphones as an accommodation on an IEP. It’s very common. Just ask for it as part of your Parent Concerns Letter.

Noise-Canceling Headphones for Autism

Banz makes a line of headphones just for babies and toddlers.

These Banz headphones for babies are only $35 right now on Amazon. Noise reduction rate: 31 decibels, according to their website.

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.

Fun and Function also makes a set for little ones.
I love my Blue microphone for podcasting, so I am going to try their headphones for myself.

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.

Skull Candy: These cool headphones are shown above on Reese Witherspoon. They have a cool name, a cool logo and their headphones come in a ton of cool colors. Perfect for school kids.

Sol Republic: Above, shown on Michael Phelps. They’re pretty affordable too.

Master and Dynamic has sound-canceling headphones in various price ranges.

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.

You can never go wrong with Bose.
Beats by Dre are the originals.

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 the movement of your head as you go about the day.

The other cool thing about Beats is that you can get them at so many stores. 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 here 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 acceptable! Cancellation, however…. gets 2 Ls. Always.

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