Noisy Kids 2

Among other things, sudden loud noises or constant murmuring can be attempts by youngsters with autism to communicate, to get attention, to avoid chores, to protest changes in routine, or to irritate other people. But sometimes repetitive noise-making seems to be more of a habit or a “stimming” activity.

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For example, a youngster may scream loudly at random intervals while at the same time appearing content and happy. Or a youngster may shout out loudly while sitting in their favorite rocking chair with their favorite stuffed bear. One mom described her pre-teen son running to a certain chair every day after school to sit with his legs crossed, rock, and repeat nonsense phrases loudly. A young adult with autism describes her absent-minded habit in high school of rocking and humming when she is listening to teachers in her high school classes. Needless to say, her sounds disrupt the other students and the teacher.

Let us take a look at several options for approaching the unconscious habit of noisy stimming.

1. Shape it. We can introduce strategies to gradually shape quieter and less disruptive sounds by using techniques such as role-playing, social stories, visual cues, and verbal cues, and by rewarding incompatible behaviors such as being a “good listener” or making “quiet sounds.”

2. Interrupt it. Sometimes we can decrease loud or repetitive noises by interrupting the sound stimming with, for example, a song or chant or movement, e.g. stretching to the sky or walking to get a drink. We can sometimes interrupt loud sounds by diverting attention with a favorite activity, object, song, or toy. Just a word of caution – We need to be make certain we are not encouraging or reinforcing the habit of making disruptive sounds by bringing attention to noisemaking and offering fun diversions.

3. Ignore it. Sometimes individuals with autism make noises in the same way we might sneeze or hiccup. Although we might be able to shape quieter and less disruptive behaviors, the wisest strategy might be to ignore our noisy kids rather than drawing attention to the noise by nagging them, getting angry, or punishing their inadvertent noises.

4. Monitor our reactions. Sometimes we are more sensitive to the sounds of our friends with autism when we are in a rush or when we are agitated about some other issue. In this case, we might want to make certain their noises are truly disruptive, or if they are just rubbing us the wrong way when our patience grows short. Also, we need to monitor our responses to our youngster’s outbursts. If not careful, we can actually make more noise and disrupt harmony in the classroom or home with our constant reminders to “be quiet.”

TIP FOR THE DAY: These are just a few options for dealing with random, loud shouting or constant, disruptive murmuring. We welcome your ideas, and we encourage you to share this resource with others interested in the well-being of individuals with autism.

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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