QUESTION: Child Hates Hearing Singing—Dislike or Sensory Defensiveness?

QUESTION:

I work with a 7-year-old female diagnosed with Autism. Mom reports that she does not like anyone to sing or hum or birds “squaking” as she will demonstrate a behavior that involves yelling, kicking, avoidance of the individual/stimulus, and crying at times (meltdown).  This has been observed once by me and a lot by mom especially with sibling singing or parents. How do I start to evaluate this to determine if it is true sensory defensiveness or another reason? Mom has tried everything possible. The girl 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. I am wondering what other sensory diet ideas to give the mom. Her arousal is “just right” with some increases at times but is able to attend well to tasks and seeks out input normally as a child her age does.

GWEN’S ANSWER:

Here are my thoughts:

1. 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 singing and birds? If the response is specific to only a few things (singing, birds, etc.), I tend to feel it is more of a preference (dislike) rather than a true sensory processing issue.
2. It sounds like she has 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.”
3. As far as the evaluation process, I recommend using 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.
4. You may want to look into Sheila Frick’s “Therapeutic Listening” program.
5. 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.

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

Best Wishes,
Gwen