Autism and Auditory Hypersensitivity: Hope for Relief

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Helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) achieve their greatest potential has been something close to my heart throughout my career. This interest has lead me in many directions including; research, developing scientifically optimized music for brain training, conference presentations, board positions in autism organizations, and writing.

One of my questions has been why do people with ASD so frequently demonstrate behaviors related to sensory over responsitivity (SOR), specifically auditory  hypersensitivity, also called hyperacousis and misophonia? This is a condition that touches not just the majority of individuals with autism, but many others including the so-called “neurotypical”. Sound hypersensitivity can be absolutely debilitating. It is heart-wrenching to see a child or adult suffer pain or perception of pain from everyday sounds.

In the quest to help, I’ve been so fortunate that Dr. Jay R. Lucker of the Department of Communication Sciences at Howard University and I share this interest. For years we have collaborated on research related to this phenomenon. Our first joint article on the topic “Auditory Hypersensitivity and Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Emotional Response” was published in Autism Science Digest in 2012. We then wrote an extensive follow-up to the Autism Science Digest article which is a deeper exploration into the neural mechanisms involved in auditory hypersensitivity which was just published in the peer reviewed journal Autism Research and Treatment.

Abstract

Professionals working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may find that these children are overly sensitive to sounds. These professionals are often concerned as to why children may have auditory hypersensitivities. This review article discusses the neural mechanisms identified underlying hypersensitive hearing in people. The authors focus on brain research to support the idea of the nonclassical auditory pathways being involved in connecting the auditory system with the emotional system of the brain. The authors also discuss brain mechanisms felt to be involved in auditory hypersensitivity. The authors conclude with a discussion of some treatments for hypersensitive hearing. These treatments include desensitization training and the use of listening therapies such as The Listening Program.

If you are a parent of a child with autism, caregiver, educator, or therapist who is touched by someone with autism, or you yourself are on the autism spectrum I do hope this latest research article provides some answers, and hope for relief from over sensitivity to sounds.

 

11 thoughts on “Autism and Auditory Hypersensitivity: Hope for Relief

  1. Jessica Stringer says:

    My 3 yr old daughter has ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder. She is not bothered by many noises, in fact if say a firetruck goes by she notices the lights but rarely pays attention to the sound. She loves music, loud music, soft music, and loves to sing. She sang words before she was acrually speaking them. She even does goes through phases of screaming metal music. She is a sensory seeker so I wonder if she is wired differently in the aspect of hypersensitivity due to that. She does have some aversions, like the blender and fireworks but doesn’t mind the vacuum or airplanes or horns, etc. Also, where a lot of kids love weighted blankets and things to calm she HATES being confined and can’t stand even a small light blanket for a long period of time. I don’t come across many kids who are like her on the spectrum. Do you know of research that has been done on kids like her, where she seeks noise instead of having an aversion to it? Or it takes a lot of noise to trigger any aversion? She’s had hearing tests and hears perfectly.

    • Alex Doman says:

      Each child is unique Jessica, so the profile of sensory sensitivity is highly variable and often seems in-congruent. One sensory channel can by hypo responsive, another hyper responsive, and this itself can be highly variable (sensory modulation) within each channel given many factors. It is not unusual for a child to seek sensory stimulation (sensory seeking) and also avoid sensation (sensory avoidance). So your daughter may seek or enjoy music as you share as a form of sensory input (especially if the presentation and volume of the sounds are in her control and/or are predictable), while others can trigger behaviors which demonstrate discomfort. It is not about how your daughter is hearing, but rather how she is processing and what her brain is doing with the information she hears.

      • Jessica Stringer says:

        That actually makes a lot of sense from what I’ve been learning about her processing. We were able to get the headphone on today for the first time to start music therapy and it went well. She only gets an hr of sensory therapy a week and we have been trying since she started about 7 months ago to get her Into them. She doesn’t like pressure on her so it’s been a struggle. Today was an achievement for sure. Her therapist explained it briefly while they were playing that she chose an elevator style music with different styles of tones, she said she was responding well, you could see moments she would focus on what she was listening to as she was playing a boardgame but she kept playing too. She said that was what she wanted to see and my daughter even kept them on when it was time to leave and transitioned easily. That’s not the norm, she hates leaving usually. Looks like I have some more research to do lol

  2. drifter1985 says:

    Hi I have a 4yr old son with autism and was wondering something:
    When I vaccume when he is home he is completely fine while the vacuum is running but once I turn it off he starts to screen does this mean he also has sensory processing disorder?? Or auditory hypersensitivites?

  3. Sandy Enos says:

    My son is autistic and hearing impaired. He does not like singing and often complains that his hearing aids are too loud. The audiologist told us that he is sensitive to sound. Can you explain how that works and if there is any way to make wearing his hearing aids more comfortable?

    • Alex Doman says:

      Adjusting to hearing aides is a challenge for most people. We have spent the past 4 months and several different models trying to dial in a pair for my wife. The Listening Program Spectrum is used to help a sound sensitive individual feel more comfortable, and supports listening skills. This can help the process of adjusting to hearing aides as well. You are most welcome to give us a call (Advanced Brain Technologies) and speak with one of our program consultants about your son. 801-622-5676.

  4. Tricia McKenna says:

    I’m a “neuro-typical” adult and suffer from auditory hypersensitivity. For me, I have particular difficulty when there are too many layers of sounds. My oldest sister, who had schizophrenia, displayed symptoms of auditory hypersensitivity as well. Oh, and I’m a musician, with 5 disabled adopted children and a husband with auditory processing issues. Thank you for your research. Relief would be lovely for all of us.

    • Alex Doman says:

      So, you have a lot of family dynamics at play, and it would seem each of you could benefit from The Listening Program, to find not only relief, but improved processing, and support with stress resilience (important with a full house!).Feel welcomed to call us at Advanced Brain Technologies to explore how we may be able to help you. 801-622-5676.

  5. Mary Tormey says:

    Could sodium fluoride in the nervous system cause the problem? Sodium chloride is normally found in the nervous system, the smaller F- ions would need less GABA to pass then larger Cl- ions…

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