Headphones - good or bad for autistics?

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ASPartOfMe
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23 May 2021, 10:33 am

Apparently autistic people should not use headphones to help with noise sensitivity. Really?
Ann Memmott
Autistic autism professional. National and international speaker. Post Graduate Certificate - autism. Associate, AT-Autism and NDTi 20 years of working alongside autistic people across a wide variety of settings. Trainer, consultant, speaker. Working with NHS teams as an external adviser. Previous work as charity Trustee and School Governor. Manager for over 30 years, working in a Professional Practice for 20 of these.

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A collaborative team of behaviourists and Psychiatrists wrote a research paper, in 2021. They claimed that an autistic teenager with an intellectual disability should not wear noise cancelling headphones to help with his extreme responses to noise. They believed it simply taught him to escape from the problem. Instead, they said that he should be trained to cope with the noises around him. Their logic was that the young person may go out without their headphones, so must be trained not to respond to distressing noise other than in the mildest of ways.

They conducted experiments on him, first subjecting him to various loud noises and recording his distressed behaviour, including self harm and sobbing. There did not appear to be mention of ethics, consent, consideration of adverse effects, nor consideration of long-term harms within their paper.

He did learn to be quiet when subjected to painful noise levels, after some interventions were taught to him.
No-one seemed to have asked him whether this was an improvement to his quality of life.
No-one asked him whether he would have preferred to use noise cancelling headphones, a standard disability adaptation for so many autistic people.

No-one seemed to have tested whether this new strategy impacted on his mental health, his ability to focus, or his ability to communicate.

I ran a poll, on Twitter about the general principle of not using headphones. These are the results.

The poll asks autistic people whether they believe autistic people should be trained to cope with noise instead of wearing noise cancelling headphones.

1.5% of the 4693 responses said yes.
5.2% said not sure/maybe.
93.3% said no, I do not agree.

I think that is fairly definitive, in terms of informal polls of social media. One can hardly claim that it is a small number of individuals.

A lot of people explained why noise sensitivity is not just a poor coping strategy by us, or an irrational phobia. They explained how noise cancelling headphones may enable functioning, thriving, quality of life, employment, socialisation, friendships.

We generally do not tell people to, for example, do without a coat and umbrella in the rain, in order to get them to tolerate being soaking wet when outside.


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Nades
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23 May 2021, 11:17 am

ASPartOfMe wrote:
Apparently autistic people should not use headphones to help with noise sensitivity. Really?
Ann Memmott
Autistic autism professional. National and international speaker. Post Graduate Certificate - autism. Associate, AT-Autism and NDTi 20 years of working alongside autistic people across a wide variety of settings. Trainer, consultant, speaker. Working with NHS teams as an external adviser. Previous work as charity Trustee and School Governor. Manager for over 30 years, working in a Professional Practice for 20 of these.
Quote:
A collaborative team of behaviourists and Psychiatrists wrote a research paper, in 2021. They claimed that an autistic teenager with an intellectual disability should not wear noise cancelling headphones to help with his extreme responses to noise. They believed it simply taught him to escape from the problem. Instead, they said that he should be trained to cope with the noises around him. Their logic was that the young person may go out without their headphones, so must be trained not to respond to distressing noise other than in the mildest of ways.

They conducted experiments on him, first subjecting him to various loud noises and recording his distressed behaviour, including self harm and sobbing. There did not appear to be mention of ethics, consent, consideration of adverse effects, nor consideration of long-term harms within their paper.

He did learn to be quiet when subjected to painful noise levels, after some interventions were taught to him.
No-one seemed to have asked him whether this was an improvement to his quality of life.
No-one asked him whether he would have preferred to use noise cancelling headphones, a standard disability adaptation for so many autistic people.

No-one seemed to have tested whether this new strategy impacted on his mental health, his ability to focus, or his ability to communicate.

I ran a poll, on Twitter about the general principle of not using headphones. These are the results.

The poll asks autistic people whether they believe autistic people should be trained to cope with noise instead of wearing noise cancelling headphones.

1.5% of the 4693 responses said yes.
5.2% said not sure/maybe.
93.3% said no, I do not agree.

I think that is fairly definitive, in terms of informal polls of social media. One can hardly claim that it is a small number of individuals.

A lot of people explained why noise sensitivity is not just a poor coping strategy by us, or an irrational phobia. They explained how noise cancelling headphones may enable functioning, thriving, quality of life, employment, socialisation, friendships.

We generally do not tell people to, for example, do without a coat and umbrella in the rain, in order to get them to tolerate being soaking wet when outside.


They might be good depending on the noise and how avoidable they are. If they're being used all day, every day then I would think they're being used an unhealthy amount of time.

"thriving, quality of life, employment, socialisation, friendships." That is a bit worrying though as it implies wearing them all day every day even at work and when speaking to people.

I do have a sensitivity to background noise muffling the voices of people talking to me but I would never consider wearing noise cancelling headphones just because is doesn't bother me much. At the end of the day I think she's right about noise being unavoidable.

Noise cancelling headphones in times of distress? Fair enough. Noise cancelling headphones all the time? No.



Jiheisho
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23 May 2021, 11:38 am

What are you testing for: opinions of a self-selecting group or the best intervention for helping an autistic person? Those are very different things. Opinion polls only test for opinion, not facts or reality.

Can you post a link to the research?



Double Retired
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23 May 2021, 12:49 pm

8O No mention of consent? Causing sobbing? Causing self harm?


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23 May 2021, 12:58 pm

I've seen autistic people walking around with noise-cancelling headphones on even when the environment is fairly quiet. I think noise-cancelling headphones can make one vulnerable sometimes. People here often advise me to go out wearing noise-cancelling headphones or listening to music all the time but I'd actually rather not because I do like to be aware of the sounds around me as a survival technique. After all, the only noises I dislike are screaming kids and cars with a loud motor and sudden noises such as sirens and car horns. But I can live with that. I just wish it were socially acceptable to put your fingers in your ears as a means of temporary escape from a particular noise.


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IsabellaLinton
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23 May 2021, 1:45 pm

I think the study sounds very flawed, and more like ABA than useful research. That poor subject!

I have misophonia and hyperacusis but it's soft sounds that drive me mad. Someone chewing, talking, or typing ... footsteps, quiet televisions in waiting rooms, crinkling food wrappers, or a tap dripping. I'll go out of my mind.

I haven't tried wearing big noise-cancellers because they would have to be extremely powerful to block those small sounds. I've tried expensive earplugs designed for misophonia but they're total rubbish. Useless.

I'd rather just avoid soft sounds, than spend money on something designed to block "loud" noises.

Besides, earplugs which block sound are known to make tinnitus worse. The brain will overcompensate and substitute whatever frequency is lost, thinking we have hearing damage. In that respect it's a lose-lose situation for me, but I know that a lot of people do benefit from wearing cans.

People should be able to do whatever enhances their quality of life the most, without being shamed for it.



Joe90
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23 May 2021, 1:58 pm

I have misophonia but not with sounds like people chewing food, as my hearing isn't that great so I don't hear those sounds (although I wouldn't be bothered if I did hear them). My misophonia makes me sensitive to screaming kids and some tones of coughing, sneezing and clearing the throat. I can adjust the misophonia if a child who I love is crying near me, like my best friend's children or my own little nieces and nephews. But with children screaming and crying in stores, I just cannot concentrate or ignore and I just have to get away. My boyfriend is a (weak-willed) smoker and has a persistent smokers cough, and it is very, very loud. In fact I think his cough has contributed to my deafness, like if you're exposed to loud rock music for too long. But being deaf doesn't make me less sensitive to loud noise, in fact it can actually make a person more sensitive to loud noises, even NTs that are hard of hearing.


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Jiheisho
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23 May 2021, 4:44 pm

It seems people have seen the original research paper. Can someone post a link?



Lady Strange
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24 May 2021, 8:20 pm

I don't know, it seems using headphones in some cases is the only way to keep sane without losing it being exposed to loud noise. I know I would have a much more stressful time surviving without them, to the point of possible self harm and melting down completely if I couldn't block the noise somehow. I haven't found any way to cure it (have tried unsuccessfully thinking it was a phobia), so it just seems cruel to force an autistic to go through that without letting them escape the situation through use of noise blocking means.


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The_Znof
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24 May 2021, 10:08 pm

Quote:
A collaborative team of behaviourists and Psychiatrists wrote a research paper, in 2021.


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ToughDiamond
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26 May 2021, 1:03 am

The article does seem suspicious - no mention of who these mysterious researchers were. But anybody interested in finding out can always contact the author on Twitter and ask her for more information about her sources. If she made it up, she won't be able to give a satisfactory reply.

As for headphones, I've heard that earplugs can be bad for people who are sensitive to noise, the fear being that the underlying sensitivity might increase, so there may be some rationale for the idea that headphones may have that downside. The same is probably true of many remedies for all kinds of things if they're based on avoiding the problem, but if it's all you've got, then the best thing might be to use headphones but remain mindful of the possible risk, and to try not to use them so much as to get too dependent on them.

In my case no such fear would make me significantly hesitant to use headphones. I don't get noise sensitivity problems enough for me to have to use them much, so I'm not so worried about getting overdependent. I'd be wary of using them in a social setting, as I once witnessed the reaction of a group to a bloke who accompanied us to a public bar and promptly put on his music headphones and went into a world of his own. They seemed annoyed that he was being aloof and antisocial. Personally I just figured that as he was doing no harm, why take offense? And I don't like it when a group puts down an individual for doing something that's not really hurting them, so just as he went down in their estimation, they went down in mine. Nonetheless, ever since then I've always thought twice about resorting to headphones in a social setting, because I don't want the same problem to happen to me. So if a social event seems likely to be too noisy for me, I'll look for a way of staying away.

I use headphones most in less social settings such as waiting rooms, and they help. I also used to use them at work to screen out the chattering of certain collections of co-workers. I took the view that if they didn't like it, they could lump it, but I don't suppose they noticed, as I was working.