Peace and Quiet

Occasionally I have an opportunity to visit an individual with autism in their home. Sometimes I visit young kids living with their family. Other times I visit individuals in a residential home setting or adults living independently. Interestingly, I always notice one common factor in any home situation – the kaleidoscope of sights and sounds that swirl around the house.

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Families and group home staff and even adult individuals with autism report problems with escalating behavior issues in the evenings at home. Although a number of factors can contribute to agitation and tantrums, one consideration is that of noise. An average home has at least one television running – usually at a relatively loud volume – as well as computer games, people talking, ceiling fans, music, and occasional water running or dishes clanging. Dogs bark, cats meow, moms fuss, traffic drives by, wind blows, dishwashers run, and other sounds fill any silences that may emerge.

Most of us are oblivious to this constant mixture of sounds, but some individuals with autism are truly sensitive to all of the noise. We cannot, of course, expect to turn off all electronics, music, talking, and noisy equipment. But we can take some steps to decrease some of the noise, especially at times of day that we notice our friend with autism is agitated by the sounds in our house. We can, for example, wait until after people are in bed to run the dishwasher. We can encourage other family members to use earphones or to keep volumes down low when watching television, working or playing on the computer, or listening to music. We can give our friend with autism earphones to listen to favorite songs on an iPod to distract them from the conglomeration of noise in the house. Earphones can also help our friends with autism tune out distractions and focus on a task or homework or music or audio book.

TIP FOR THE DAY: Because we are not usually even aware of the layers of sounds in our households, we can be impatient with our friends with autism who seem to be overly sensitive to sounds swirling around. But sensory issues are very real in autism, so we need to do what we can to help create an atmosphere of peace and quiet at home.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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