Auditory / Sound Sensitivity Toolkit for Children

  • Situation

    My 7 year old is strangely tuned in to certain sounds. For example, if the pages of a book are being turned within hearing distance, he reacts by screaming at the offender to stop it. He is agitated by the noise to the point of having to leave the proximity so he doesn’t continue to fixate on it. When someone who has dry hands rubs them together and he can hear it, it gives him the “willies” and chills. Yesterday at a restaurant, I reached to pull a napkin out of a dispenser , and he reacted by slinking down in the booth saying, “Great! Thanks a lot –I just lost my appetite from you doing that.” He couldn’t finish his toasted cheese sandwich. Another example is that he reacts loudly when paper is being ripped or a sheet of paper is being torn from perforations in a spiral bound notebook. When my long fingernails scratch against him, or I scratch my own itch, it drives him crazy.

    How can our family help minimize these seemingly over-the-top reactions to what seem like innocuous sounds–besides the obvious removal of known triggers? Should we be concerned?

  • Summary

    Children who demonstrate heightened sensitivity to sounds may benefit from a number of intervention strategies. This sensitivity is often a response to overstimulation in the environment that makes it difficult for children to filter out distractions and focus on the sights and sounds that are of immediate importance.

    Consider developing an auditory sensory tool kit  that includes an individualized plan to address your child’s sensory needs.  This toolkit should include a variety of coping strategies and appropriate tools to help your child throughout his/her daily routines and activities.


    1. Opportunities spaced throughout the day for a Sensory break. 
    2. Noise canceling device(s)
    3. Preferred  (soft) music or “white noise”.
    4. Chew items.
    5. Heavy work activities: a) activities such as animal walks, push-ups, wheelbarrow, etc. ,  b) pushing/pulling large loads

    If you have  ongoing concerns about your child’s sensitivity to sounds you may want to consult with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician may refer  you to an Audiologist and/or and Occupational therapist for further evaluation and support.

  • Definition

    An Auditory Sensitivity Toolkit is a predetermined  individualized toolkit for individuals experiencing heightened sensitivity to sounds in their daily environments. The toolkit should include individual prevention strategies as well as coping strategies.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10
    • Planning Effort: Low
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Purchase of materials, List of sensory break activities

  • Process

    1. The first thing you want to do is determine what your child’s target sensitivities are and when/where they most often occur through careful observation and/or report from your child. Ask your child what he/she believes would help in those situations. Talk with them about what they are experiencing.  Include them in the decision making for what sensory strategies should go into their “toolkit”.

    2. Schedule regular “sensory breaks” throughout the day as a prevention strategy. This would allow your child to have breaks from regulating his/her senses all day long. He/she may need more breaks on busy hectic days and less on others.  These breaks ideally should occur in a quiet location that is free from distractions.

    3. Some children are extra sensitive to unexpected noises when not prepared. Whenever possible, alert or prepare your child before the offending noise occurs.

    4. Consider using soft background noise in the home environment.

    5. Some children listen to preferred music – often quiet, soothing music. Experiment ahead of time with your child by listening to music of several different genres. Help them determine which music is best suited for them when they are experiencing sensory overload.

    6. The use of “white noise” is also a strategy that might be in your child’s “toolkit”. White noise could come from a fan or one of many simple machines that can be found on the internet. There are a multitude of iPad and iPhone apps currently on the market that provide this type of sensory input. (i.e., NatureSpace, Relax Melodies, Mindfulness, etc)

    7. Before going to a loud place (i.e., restaurants) have your child do some type of “heavy work” activity such as pushing, pulling heavy objects, working muscles and joints against resistance.

    8. The use of noise cancellation headphones can also be very helpful in many situations. These can include; a) soft wax ear plugs found in most drugstores, b) hunter’s ear protection headphones found where sporting goods are sold, c) musician ear plugs retailed on-line or purchased through a local audiologist.  Determine ahead of time which option is most appropriate for your child and provide instruction on their uses.

    9. Consider having your child chewing something during times of high stress and/or distraction. There are any number of “chewies” out on the market (i.e.,, However you can make it simple by using preferred flavor chewing gum and/or crunchy items such as carrots or celery. Again, have your child experiment with different chew items to determine which is most helpful to them.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    school specialty website (sample retail site for chew items)


    fun and function website (sample retail site for noise canceling items)


    This resource was authored by Watson Institute Special Education Consultant, Katie Bentz, M.Ed.

    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.