Tolerating Loud Sounds in Children with Autism

Loud sounds are a common challenge for many children on the autism spectrum, but it is unfortunately the reality of life that we will have to deal with not only loud sounds, but sudden loud sounds. 


Remember! We focus 90% of our energy on Proactive Strategies

  • Preventative Strategy: wear noise-cancelling headphones 
  • Teaching Strategy: build your child’s tolerance to sounds in increasing volumes 


  1. “Wearing Headphones” Social Story
  2. First-Then board
  3. Rewards!
  4. Self-occupying activities, favourite belongings
  5. Video Models 


Items List for Loud Sounds


1. Communicate expectations: through using a Social Story, Video Model and First Then card, present to your child the possibility of Loud Sounds and what he/she could do. Demonstrate with a Coping Phrase, “That was loud! No big deal!” when you are gradually exposing your child to this possibly uncomfortable situation. 



2. Probe: With the Social Story and First Then board around, use a small stereo or speaker to expose your child to the sounds. Start at a low volume, and gradually increase it. 

  • Have a way for your child to communicate “Stop” or “Too loud” using their words, or a visual card
  • Alternatively, a child may still communicate that by walking away/covering their ears/pushing or hitting the speakers.



3. Practice: Note “First Loud Sounds, Then Reward” on the First Then board 

  • Gradually increase the volume as your child build tolerance
  • Increase the duration of the loud volume when your child is successful
  • Remember to use strong reinforcements as motivation and to strengthen your child’s learning
  • Sudden sounds: introduce this when your child is able to tolerate louder and louder sounds

a. Use a First Then board to make it a “predictable” sudden sound 

b. Gradually delay presenting the First Then board to the actual sound

c. Gradually fade the board, and have the loud sounds coming on at different times




4. The BIG DAY: attending a party/going for a music class/a day with thunder and lightning 

  • Real-life scenario would give your child the opportunity to truly practice tolerating the loud and possibly sudden sounds



5. Review or Troubleshoot 

  • Gauge if your child is ready to generalise this skill to different settings and to fade back some of the visuals
  • Troubleshoot: further break skills down or practice again 

Your Turn

Identify if your child struggles with loud or sudden sounds, and go through the steps outlined in this series.


Prepare some headphones, communication visuals, as well as all the materials and the desensitisation breakdown for your child, the reinforcements, generalisation factors as well as other potential skill(s) to teach.


Download the materials and begin teaching your child!