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Reducing auditory meltdowns

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Reducing auditory meltdowns

Overstimulation of the brain due to auditory input can cause a meltdown.

The sound could be loud (hyperacusis), repetitive (misophonia), or continuous, such as a background noise that causes ongoing distraction, for example.

If you have a child who exhibits a sensitivity to sounds, there are many things you can do in addition to professional treatment to help the child.

Let’s look at a few.


People who make no noise are dangerous.

~Jean de La Fontaine


It's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world.

~Al Franken's Saturday Night Live character, self-help nerd Stuart Smalley. I included this because, even though someone with auditory sensitivities is legitimately distressed, the world is not going to change for them. The more control they have, whether it's being able to handle sound better or recognize the first symptoms on an upcoming meltdown and remove themselves, the easier and more enjoyable their life will be. 


Action Ideas (Ideas to get ya thinkin’. Not medical advice)

1. Reducing the chance of a meltdown

The basics: To the best of your abilities have daily routines built so sufficient sleep, hydration, food, and movement are part of every day.

Reduce screen time. Not only does time in front of the screen reduce the opportunity for movement, most programing is made to be highly engaging/addictive. This engages the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight). We want to spend more of our time in the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest / relax & rejuvenate). Some activities that support the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) are: time in nature, movement, working on a hobby, and meditating.

I remember reading a statistic (but don’t quote me. I can’t find it now) that we used to spend 80% of our time in the PNS (healing). Now that’s flipped. We spend that much time in our survival/stress mode. Not only are we putting more stress on the body, we’re also giving it less time to recuperate.


2. Reducing the reaction of sound

  • Choose new activities that do not have stressful sounds. This way the stress of the unknown/new activity/new environment can be handled on its own.
  • Once activities/locations aren’t stressful, introduce a new sound.
  • Create activities at home that may be on the edge of their comfort zone to safely expand their comfort zone. This includes sounds.
  • If going away from home, clearly explain what the plan for an outing is. Discuss coping strategies prior to the day. Practice them if need be.
  • Use headphones, earmuffs, earplugs, etc. to block triggering sounds.(see the P.P.S.)
  • Have fidget toys available to help with regulation.
  • If overtired or not having a good day prior to leaving for the event, reschedule if possible.
  • Is there a way to reduce the noise? For example, find out beforehand if there are spots/locations that are louder/quieter.
  • Play soothing music or calm background sounds if that’s useful (for some, the extra noise increases stress)
  • Give advance warning if there’ll be a very loud sound (e.g. bells ringing, alarms, fire drills, etc.)
  • Regulate the system prior to leaving home: large muscle activities or deep pressure, for example.
  • Explain your ‘escape plan’ if things are getting to be too much.
  • Take small steps so that you can have success along the way.

I remember years ago hearing about a study, testing kids on their physiological reaction to a fire bell. Most kids very quickly returned to a normal state. For children with auditory sensory issues, it was much, much longer before their brain returned to a normal state of excitement.


3. Warning signs that a meltdown might occur

  • The fight, flight, or freeze response (sympathetic nervous system) is the typical response of the child to sensory overload. Please note: these are not chosen behaviours. They are responses to overload. To reduce the reaction, planned actions like mentioned above and/or professional treatment is needed.
  • Watch for the signs and remove the child/alter the environment if overwhelm/a meltdown is probable.
  • Physical responses may include the following:
    • Paleness
    • Rapid and/or shallow breathing
    • Feeling nauseous
    • Fatigue
    • Poor eye contact
    • Crying
    • Screaming
    • Running away
    • Wandering
    • Hiding
    • Shutting down (freeze response) - no movement, not speaking
    • Covering their ears
    • Aggression/anger/irritability (hitting, punching, biting, pushing, etc.)
    • Agitation
    • Fidgeting, restlessness
    • Whining
    • Curling up in the fetal position
    • Unable to do or finish a task
    • Difficulty concentrating


4. How to manage a possible oncoming meltdown:

  • Teach them physical movements such as tight squeezes and jumping up and down which will help calm them down by engaging the muscles/fascia.
  • Distract them - hugs, games, books, toys might be helpful at the beginning of the meltdown.
  • Allow a few moments of reflection (or breaks) which will help the child to calm down.
  • Remove the sensory stimulation that is causing their meltdown. Reduce their exposure to it.
  • Meditation / deep breathing. This should be taught beforehand.
  • Make sure they are safe. Some may have self-injurious and aggressive behavior).
  • Maybe speak to them in a calm, assuring voice. Evaluate the effects of speech. It could add to the overload.
  • Carry fidget items with you at all times so when the unexpected happens, you have something to offer to help regulate and/or distract. Check out our selection of fidget items

May your week be filled with harmonious sounds as a decibel level that works for you.

Providing calmness & comfort, learning & laughter,

P.S. We are shifting from buying products wholesale to only selling InnovAID designed/manufactured products. As soon as I can get the website in general updated, many of our non-signature products will go on sale. With school budgets being cut and our desire to quickly create room for more products, the sale will be a ‘buy more/save more sale’.

Stay tuned!


P.P.S. Thanks to those of you who shared your interest in Vibes hi-fidelity earplugs and cord. They can be viewed here. If you might be interested in InnovAID carrying them, please comment below or email me diane<at> We are only surveying interest right now. It is NOT a commitment to purchase. Thanks.

Your name will automatically be entered to win a set. The draw will be made Monday, August 31 and will be announced in the Sept. 2 issue of Take AIM.

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