Autism and Sound Sensitivity: What We Know

In this article, we will explore what we know about autism and sound sensitivity.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 23, 2024
min read

Autism and Sound Sensitivity

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. One of the common symptoms of autism is hypersensitivity to sensory input, including sound.

Individuals with autism may experience sound sensitivity, also known as hyperacusis, which can cause discomfort, anxiety, and even physical pain.

What is Sound Sensitivity?

Sound sensitivity is a condition where an individual experiences an abnormal sensitivity to sounds. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including neurological disorders, hearing loss, and exposure to loud noises.

In individuals with autism, sound sensitivity is often linked to sensory processing issues.

They may find certain sounds, such as high-pitched noises or sudden loud sounds, overwhelming and distressing.

How Common is Sound Sensitivity in Autism?

Sound sensitivity is a common symptom of autism. According to a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, up to 70% of individuals with autism experience sound sensitivity. This is significantly higher than the general population, where only 8% of people report being sensitive to sounds.

How Does Sound Sensitivity Affect Individuals with Autism?

Sound sensitivity can have a significant impact on the daily lives of individuals with autism. They may avoid certain places or situations that they know will trigger their sensitivity.

For example, they may avoid crowded places, such as shopping malls or movie theaters, because of the noise levels.

They may also have difficulty concentrating or completing tasks when there is background noise.

In addition to these practical difficulties, sound sensitivity can also cause emotional distress. Individuals with autism may experience anxiety, frustration, and even physical pain when exposed to certain sounds. This can lead to social isolation and a reduced quality of life.

How Can Sound Sensitivity be Managed?

There are several strategies that can be used to manage sound sensitivity in individuals with autism. These include:

  • Sensory integration therapy: This therapy involves exposing individuals to different sensory stimuli in a controlled environment to help them learn to regulate their responses.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs: These can be used to reduce the impact of loud or sudden sounds.
  • Environmental modifications: Simple modifications to the environment, such as reducing background noise or using sound-absorbing materials, can make a significant difference.
  • Behavioral interventions: Techniques such as desensitization and habituation can be used to gradually expose individuals to sounds that trigger their sensitivity.

The Impact of Sound Sensitivity on Communication in Individuals with Autism

Sound sensitivity can have a profound impact on communication in individuals with autism.

Language development and communication are often delayed or impaired in individuals with autism, and sound sensitivity can further exacerbate these difficulties.

For example, an individual with autism who is sensitive to high-pitched sounds may find it difficult to differentiate between different speech sounds, making it harder for them to understand language.

They may also struggle to filter out background noise when someone is speaking, which can make it hard for them to follow conversations.

Moreover, sound sensitivity can make communication more challenging for individuals with autism who also experience anxiety or emotional distress in response to certain sounds.

This can lead to social withdrawal and difficulty engaging in social interactions.

It's important for caregivers and educators to be aware of the impact of sound sensitivity on communication in individuals with autism.

By understanding the ways that sound sensitivity affects language development and social interaction, they can take steps to support individuals with autism in developing their communication skills.

This may involve modifying the environment to reduce sensory input or using alternative modes of communication, such as visual aids or sign language.

The Relationship Between Sound Sensitivity and Anxiety in People with Autism

Sound sensitivity can often lead to anxiety in individuals with autism. They may experience a heightened sense of fear, nervousness, or apprehension when exposed to certain sounds. This is because their brain processes sensory information differently than neurotypical individuals.

The link between sound sensitivity and anxiety in individuals with autism is complex. While sound sensitivity can trigger feelings of anxiety, the reverse may also be true – that is, anxiety can make an individual more sensitive to sounds.

For example, an individual who is already feeling anxious may become even more distressed by sudden loud noises.

It's important for caregivers and educators to understand this relationship, as it can impact how they support individuals with autism who experience sound sensitivity. Strategies such as mindfulness techniques or cognitive-behavioral therapy may be helpful in managing both sound sensitivity and anxiety.

By addressing both issues together, caregivers and educators can help individuals with autism feel more comfortable and confident in their daily lives. They can also work towards reducing social isolation and improving quality of life for those affected by these challenges.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Support Individuals with Autism who Experience Sound Sensitivity

If you are a parent or caregiver of an individual with autism who experiences sound sensitivity, there are several things you can do to help support them.

Firstly, it's important to understand the specific triggers for their sound sensitivity. Some individuals may be more sensitive to certain sounds than others, so it's important to know what these sounds are and how they affect your loved one.

Once you know the specific triggers, you can work together with your loved one to develop coping strategies. This might include using noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs in noisy environments, or practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness.

It's also important to create a safe and comfortable space for your loved one at home.

This might involve reducing background noise by closing windows or doors, using sound-absorbing materials like curtains or carpets, or creating a designated quiet area where your loved one can go if they feel overwhelmed.

In addition to these practical strategies, emotional support is also crucial. Individuals with autism who experience sound sensitivity may feel anxious, frustrated, or isolated from others because of their condition. As a caregiver or parent, it's important to provide reassurance and understanding during times of distress.

You can also help your loved one build social skills by encouraging them to engage in activities that interest them while minimizing exposure to triggering sounds.

For example, they may enjoy activities like art therapy or sensory play that allow them to explore new sensations in a controlled environment.

Finally, it's important for parents and caregivers to seek out professional support when needed. A qualified therapist or counselor can provide guidance on managing sound sensitivity in individuals with autism and offer additional coping strategies for both the individual and their family members.

By working together with your loved one and seeking out professional support when needed, you can help manage their sound sensitivity and improve their quality of life.


Sound sensitivity is a common symptom of autism that can have a significant impact on the daily lives of individuals with autism. While there is no cure for sound sensitivity, there are several strategies that can be used to manage it.

By understanding the causes and effects of sound sensitivity, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals with autism.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents