A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2018 | Number 4, Volume 32

Noise-attenuating headphones: benefits, barriers reported

A new study suggests that noise-attenuating headphones may help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) better tolerate noise at home, at school, and in the community, although there are some barriers to using them. 

Participants in the study included 10 parents, 5 teachers, and 15 children who were 6 to 12 years of age and exhibited auditory hypersensitivity. The children wore the headphones for two to four weeks, spending half the time wearing around-the-ear headphones and the other half wearing in-the-ear versions. The researchers interviewed the parents and teachers following the intervention. 

Parents and teachers reported a number of benefits of the headphones, primarily in the school setting. These included increased participation and enjoyment in tasks, reductions in disruptive behaviors, decreased anxiety, improved attention and focus, and reductions in escaping (elopement). Parents or teachers commented that the headphones helped children tolerate noise in restaurants, at assemblies, at recess, in the cafeteria, and during noisy activities such as riding the train, attending a wedding, or participating in a fire drill. Several parents and teachers also reported that the headphones empowered children to regulate their own behavior, predicting when they needed the headphones and initiating their use. 

However, the study also revealed several downsides of headphone use. Some parents and teachers expressed concern that the children would become overly dependent on the headphones, while others worried about the possible stigma created by the over-the-ear version. Some of the children found the in-ear headphones uncomfortable, and some had more difficulty paying attention or hearing and engaging in conversations due to the sound-blocking nature of the around-the-ear headphones. Other issues raised included the cost of the headphones and the fact that children or caregivers sometimes forgot to bring them along to noisy environments. 

While many children initially resisted wearing the headphones, parents, and teachers found that preparing the children adequately—for instance, by modeling the use of the headphones, explaining their purpose, and allowing other children in the classroom to use them in order to reduce the stigma—led to acceptance.


“Impact of noise-attenuating headphones on participation in the home, community, and school for children with autism spectrum disorder,” Beth Pfeiffer, Shelly Raee Erb, and Laura Slugg, Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, September 28, 2018, pp. 1-17. Address: Beth Pfeiffer, Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Temple University, 3307 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19140,  [email protected].