Question:

I am working with a child who hates to hear singing. She is 7 years old with a diagnosis of autism. Her mom reports that she does not like anyone to sing or hum or birds “squawking” as she calls it. In response, her behavior involves yelling, kicking, avoidance of the individual/stimulus, and a crying meltdown at times. Both her mom and I have observed this behavior, especially when her sibling or parents sing. 

How do I begin an evaluation to determine whether the behavior is true sensory defensiveness versus another reason? Her mom has tried numerous things. The child knows to put on headphones, remove herself (not always), and run a fan or have white noise on to tune it out, and many other things. Her arousal is “just right” with some increases at times. She attends well to tasks and seeks out input normally as a child her age does. What other sensory diet ideas can I this mom?

Answer:

Here are a few things to consider for this child who hates to hear singing.

Sensory Processing

Is she over-responsive to sound in general (prefer low volume, cover her ears in crowded settings, etc.), or is this just a reaction to people singing and birds squawking? If she responds to only a few things (singing, birds, etc.), it may be more of a preference (dislike) rather than a true sensory processing issue.

She seems to have some good coping skills (sensory diet strategies) in place already: headphones, white noise, etc. If she is verbal, it would be good to role-play how to kindly ask someone to stop singing. She could learn to say “Singing hurts my ears. Please talk instead of sing.”

Try desensitization: While she is occupied with a task, have the mom sing quietly in another room. Gradually increase the volume and the proximity of the singing to the child.

You may want to look into Sheila Frick’s Therapeutic Listening program to see if it might help her.

Evaluation

Use a good sensory checklist and an assessment tool such as the Sensory Profile or the Sensory Processing Measure. If the results don’t indicate any other significant sensory issues, there probably isn’t anything else you can add into her sensory diet that will address this problem. If this is true
sensory defensiveness, you will typically see over-responsiveness to more than just singing and birds.

Keep me posted. I’m always curious to hear how these unique cases turn out!

Best Wishes,
Gwen