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Lady with autism and auditory sensory processing disorder plugging her earsSensory overload is something that we all experience to a degree, but those with Autism often also have a Sensory Processing Disorder or have sensory integration difficulties. This means that they are both easily impacted and more impacted by sensory overload. This is a seven part series in which I will address the different types of sensory overload and help you identify them and find some solutions. This first blog post addresses auditory sensory overload.

Have you ever noticed someone tapping their foot or clicking a pen and not been able to concentrate on anything else? You probably tried to ignore it and couldn't, so you moved, asked them to stop, or waited it out. Now imagine every sound having that effect on you - the fan above your head, the traffic outside, the sound of someone typing, the TV that is on two rooms away. These sounds are impossible to stop or move away from. 

Alternatively imagine having trouble hearing and processing sound. You don't notice when your are speaking loudly, and you slam the door so that you can hear it is closed.

Both of these are types of Sensory Processing Disorder. The first describes someone who is Hypersensitive, while the second person is Hyposensitive.


Auditory hypersensitivity is what is described above. Noise is magnified and often distorted, the individual may be able to hear things that are far away, and they struggle to block out "background noise." That vacuum in the room above, the conversation at the far end of the hall, or the cars on the street are constantly impacting them. They are distracted by noises others might not notice, and startled easily because the sounds are magnified. For a lot of people with sensory processing disorder, this results in anxiety, an inability to focus, and ultimately the "socially unacceptable" behaviour that is associated with autism and sensory challenges.

How do I identify hypersensitivity to sound?

People with a hypersensitivity to sound will attempt to block out the overwhelming sounds. They may cover their ears or their whole head, and complain about or react to noises. They may also ask people to speak or sing quietly, turn down the volume on devices, or seek refuge from noise. There may also be specific noises that are particularly hard for them such as children laughing, flushing toilets or dogs barking. They will also likely avoid big, loud public venues as they are too overwhelming. In general, the individual's behaviour will be much better when they are in quiet environments.

What techniques can I use to help someone who is hypersensitive to sound? Many people with sensory processing disorders or autism are hypersensitive to sounds and use headphones to block out noise

  • Use headphones and hats to muffle and block out sound
  • Prepare the individual before going into noisy places so they are aware and expect the noise
  • Avoid noisy public places
  • Listen to music
  • Create quiet zones in your house, at school, or in places the individual frequents so that they are able to escape the noise as best they can
  • Turn off the TV, close the windows and doors, and block out or minimize the background noises


Individuals with autism and sensory processing disorder can by hyposensitive to soundAuditory hyposensitivity is the opposite of hypersensitivity. Sounds are quiet and hard to hear. The individual may have hearing loss in 1 or both ears, and may not acknowledge certain sounds. This person will seek sounds and crowds, and lead a "noisy' life filled with behaviours such as slamming doors, banging chairs and making noise.

How do I identify hyposensitivity to sound?

Individuals with hyposensitivity to sound will have trouble hearing verbal cues, and may not always respond to their name. They will not notice some sounds, may have trouble remembering verbal conversations, and/or may have trouble discriminating among similar sounds. They will want to turn up sound and have loud music, and often make noise just to hear it, such as hitting the table, slamming cupboards, and loudly talking themselves through things.  They will often ask people to speak louder and repeat themselves.

Visual Aids help people with autism or auditory sensory processing challenges communicate

What techniques can I use to help someone who is hyposensitive to sound?






  • Use visual ques and supports to back up verbal communication
  • Speak Clearly










Watch the video below to get an idea of what it is live to have a Sensory Processing Disorder, and don't turn down that volume! Keep in mind there are many, many different types of Sensory Processing Disorders, and people, particularly those with autism, all exhibit very different sensitivities and reactions. Follow us on Facebook to see when our next article in the series is released!

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

If you liked this article, check out these:

             Goofy falling from Proprioceptive Dysfunction                                           Boy who is sensitive from Visual Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Proprioceptive Dysfunction?                        What is Visual Sensory Processing Disorder?



    Baby with Tactile Dysfunction biting a table                                      What is Olfactory Dysfunction?

   What is Tactile Dysfunction?                                 What is Olfactory Dysfunction?






Written by Monica McMahen — November 28, 2014



I often get what I call “auditory claustrophobia” where on feel that all by the sounds in the room are closing in on me and I feel boxed in by sound. I have a few sounds that really amplify because they hit a nerve… like someone chewing food and smacking their mouth when they chew. But this auditory claustrophobia is different… if the tv is on and my partner tries to talk to me and our children are playing loudly, I start feeling as though I have no space to move my thoughts and feel boxed in. Does anyone out there have this experience?

January 12 2016


Yes, have you found any ways to mitigate the effect or specific triggers. I often have this happen when I am driving and my children act like acoustic tornadoes trying to one-up each other in pitch and duration of random noise.

March 16 2016

Jamie Jocson:

Hi. I recently had what I think an auditory sensory overload. I heard different sounds all at the same time. My ears are ringing after that. I experienced light headedness, and my ears still hurt. every sound I hear seems so loud. then the next day, my sister’s puppy barked nonstop. and my nephew cried. so the crying and the barking again went into me. It’s painful. what can I possibly do next time I went out of my room? Am I really having an auditory sensory overload? thanks!

April 26 2017

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