Autism spectrum disorders often come with a difficulty dealing with social interactions.
Sensory processing issues also often come with difficulty dealing with sudden unexpected noises.
Jump To The 2 Best Options
Sudden noises – or even background noises – can be over-stimulating – sometime physically painful – for an autistic child, which can provoke an episode of difficult behaviour, of overwhelm or a meltdown.
Loud environments and any outside noise – too much sensory stimuli – like passing a building site can be horrible for autistic kids – and to a lesser extent, for most people.
It can be different things. Even background, ambient noise in many situations can be too much noise – sensory overload – for someone with a sensory processing disorder. For some, certain sounds can be a trigger; an animal, a car, a machine hum.
One of the best solutions is preparation; thinking ahead and preparing for what noises, sounds and environments to expect. Many children benefit from imagining ahead of time, what to expect.
If you are going to a known venue or destination, where possible, watching a video of that destination before can prepare an autistic person for what to expect.
But you can’t always predict the environmental noise in specific circumstances nor in its entirety.
Autistic Noise Cancelling Headphones
This is where wearing headphones – active noise canceling headphones for autism can really help as an effective tool for sensory processing, to minimise stimuli.
The technology on these noise reduction headphones is truly astonishing and has to be experienced to be believed.
They are like hearing aids in reverse.
Autism Noise Canceling Headphones
I tested the noise cancellation on a number of these headphones and while the noise reduction varied, on the better models, quite how much noise cancellation happened, how much sound was cut out, was amazing.
Silence The Background Noise
In fact, while I was writing a page for this website and wearing the best autism noise canceling headphones (see later), my sister was (apparently) calling me. Repeatedly.
I didn’t hear her at all. It was only when she tapped me on my shoulder and scared the hell out of me, that I realised she was calling me for dinner.
I’m not complaining. Who needs to hear sisters 😉
But seriously, the noise cancellation was impressive!
The noise reduction rating varies from each model but the 2 best options I discuss here. More on these later.
Noise Canceling Headphones For Autism
Technology has moved so fast that the days of wired headphones are long gone. Why would you?
Wireless headphones mean you don’t need to struggle with cables trapping your hands or arms while you move about.
With wireless headphones you are free to use your hands for what you want, rather than catching or moving the cables out of your way.
Bluetooth headphones mean that they can be connected using Bluetooth mode on their phone to play music or simply use the noise canceling headphones without sound input.
A long battery life is important and has massively improved in recent years. You can expect maybe 25 hours to 40 hours listening time use from each charge and better battery life over years.
You need good playback time so you don’t need to keep charging. A good option you want if for a charge for five minutes or ten minutes to give you at least four hours of playback.
In Ear or Over Ear Headphones
Everyone is different, and everyone processes sensory input in different ways, including neurotypical people. And not everyone who struggles with a certain feel or sensory input is autistic.
For instance, my mum is the most socially engaging person I know, the seeming opposite of autistic, but she hates the sensory feel of in-ear headphones.
Over head and over ear headphones are generally more pleasing to most autistic people, so long as a few other criteria are met. More on that later – but the most important being – no head clamp or crush feeling.
Its a horrible feeling, after 20 minutes of using a pair of headphones, maybe listening to some music, and then you feel a creeping, growing head-clamp feeling. Squeezing your head.
You have to move your jaw, wiggle your smile, roll your neck, because the headphones are too tight.
It is a difficult balance between too tight and hurting your head – and too loose and falling off your head. The best headphones have that balance. And it is a personal choice, depending on your head size, or age. If you don’t mind wearing them for an hour and they don’t hurt and haven’t fallen off, that is just right! You want long lasting comfort so they feel good all the time. This is especially true for kids with autism. The headphones must fit the child comfortably.
It is a good idea to give other people notice that an autistic person is autistic. This way, the other person can adapt their behaviour, expectation and interaction accordingly.
This is specifically why I designed these Autism Headphones decals so others can be subtly made aware, and can then hopefully be more kind, patient and non-judgemental
Noise Reduction Rating
For me, the PowerLocus is a good pair of active noise canceling headphones for autistic children, but they are too tight for my head. They are better suited for younger children with autism.
For my head, the Soundcore noise reducing headphones – which are premium headphones for autistic children and autistic adults – are much better for my head, with a perfect fit and comfortable padded headband.
So you have to get the right fit – the right headphones for you. I would say for the best option, that the PowerLocus is the best fit for a child with autism comfortably and their child’s ears – age 10 and under. The Soundcore is best for over age 10 and autistic adults.
The sound quality is also better on the Soundcore and also has a wired mode. The PowerLocus is a great alternative for smaller heads.
Both have super soft padding on the ears making them extremely comfortable as well as excellent audio quality.
Ear defenders are what you see workers like builders wear to cut out distracting sounds. The basic version of noise reduction headphones. There is no electronics in them so no good for music! They have big pads on the ear cup to block specific sounds.
They’re like ear muffs that block sound a bit – just pure noise isolation.
But ear muffs are what you might see in snow! They simply cover the ears to do more or less the same job as putting your fingers in your ears or your hands over your ears.
Ear plugs might help block loud noises in a noisy place too. You can get a cheap pair for a few pounds but they are difficult to take in and out, unlike the proper noise canceling headphones, which are easy to remove if necessary. Also most models can turn off the noise cancellation part if there is too much hearing loss, and you need more sound to get through.
Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Active noise cancellation headphones (ANC Headphones) not only muffle outside sounds like ear defenders.
The cool part of this technology is how this works. The headphones effectively hear a sound – they listen for noise in the outside world – and then play a sound in your ear that is the opposite noise. Like a minus sound to a positive sound, in order to cancel out the first sound.
And you can enjoy music at the same time.
The best headphones like this are effectively listening to the environment, converting that ‘positive’ sound to the negative version of the sounds it hears out there, and playing that negative version inside the ear cups.
This is what ANC headphones do, and why they help autistic adults and children deal with everyday noises.
Noisli App & Autism Noise Canceling Headphones
Once you have them on, what sound will you put through them? What is best for the autism spectrum disorder, for autistic adults and children?
You can wear them as purely noise reduction headphones. Or you can listen to music or sounds with them. Beyond just music, there are Therapeutic sounds. Depending on the noise sensitivity, a tranquil sound like running water or the wind or the waves of the sea might be enough to reduce over stimulation.
The phone app Noisli is great for this.
You can select from a range of sound inputs, and slide each into audible range; louder or softer. Maybe some trees, a river, leaves, the wind – whatever you like.
This is great because kids with autism are then in control of the sounds that are also blocking out any outside noise, as well as it being calming sounds like running water.
You can also play soft music at the same time as using the Noisli app.
Comfortable sleep headphones can be a great option, obviously not when moving around as they have a sleep mask over the eyes. These are great for side sleepers. On a plane or in bed these sleeping headband headphones can be helpful to cut out sensory overload while trying to rest and fall asleep – sleeping headband headphones are great for one purpose only. Sleep headphones are great for resting but for travelling and moving about their use is obviously limited. While they can be great as headphones, for everyday use, sleep headphones are obviously only of worth at home.
The Best Noise Cancelling Headphones
The best headphones for anyone on the autism spectrum have certain requirements, to cut out noisy environments;
- Good sound quality matters for playing music or online games.
- Top notch battery life matters. One charge, lots of hours of playback
- Can turn Noise Cancelling OFF so enough noise can get through.
- Noise reduction matters. Top noise isolation.
- Comfortable padded ears
- Must block noise naturally.
- Must block ambient noise including high and low frequencies; stop low end sounds
- A good carrying case
- Fast charging, with USB C charging port preferably
- And on call quality, must have crisp voice quality.
Autism Noise Canceling Headphones
Expensive models and expensive sets like Bose headphones are not strictly necessary.
The best headphones for autistic adults and children need fantastic sound quality and comfort at the same time. So,
The 2 best headphones for this are…
- The Soundcore for quality, and
- The PowerLocus for price.