By: Jessica Kalen, OTA & PTA Diploma Program Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
All posts are reviewed by a supervising Occupational Therapist. Toronto Children’s Therapy Center is appreciative of the time and research, placement students commit to in writing posts for our blog.
What is Auditory Defensiveness?
Auditory Defensiveness can cause a heightened sensitivity to sounds in the environment or an under-responsiveness to sounds in the environment. The sounds in the environment that the child may hear may appear to be louder than what we would interpret them to be or more muted. In an Auditory Defensive child, their nervous system perceives the sounds differently. Therefore, it must not be confused with the normal deterioration of hearing with age; when the hairs in the cochlea of the ear are unable to send the sound signals to the brain.
Therefore, the child will react to the loud noises in various ways. A few examples of noises that may sound louder to the child can be, but are not limited to:
- Clicking noises associated with closing a door
- Fire trucks that drive by
- Barking dogs in the environment
A child who has Auditory Defensiveness will typically cover his/her ears and show signs of distress, such as a reaction known as “fight-or-flight”, appear to freeze in the moment, or may even react to the stimulus by starting to cry. The child may also try to avoid the loud environment by running away. An example of this would be running out of the rest room as a toilet flushes.
Children who have Auditory Defensiveness do not necessarily grow out of it, rather they grow into it – meaning that the child will find ways to cope and compensate. Proprioceptive input causes a release of a calming neurotransmitter, called serotonin within the brain. Serotonin is considered to be a mood stabilizer and acts to calm the body systems down, bringing them back to calming state. Engaging a child in activities that provide the Central Nervous System with proprioceptive input puts deep pressures onto the muscles and joints, to reduce anxiety or distress – through the actions of serotonin. The best way to provide the child with proprioceptive feedback to get a release of serotonin is through proprioceptive activities that involve:
- Deep pressure activities such as lay bags, tight squeezes, massages
Occupational Therapists can also introduce a Sensory Diet to a child, which consists of activitiesthat provides a combination of sensory inputs to the nervous system, allowing them to get back to their “just right” state – one that will allow them to concentrate, pay attention and socialize with other kids. Activities in a sensory diet can help kids who are Auditory Defensive feel calmer. Sensory diets consist of activities that provide the nervous system with proprioceptive feedback, generating the release of serotonin – therefore, bringing the child back down to a calmer state.
What are some recommendations that I can do as a parent?
- Try to avoid environments that appear to be loud
- Deep pressure around the child’s body can provide proprioceptive input for the child and assist them in organising themselves and bringing them back down to a calming state.
- Speak with an Occupational Therapist to use a Sensory Diet within treatment sessions
Center of Development Pediatric Therapies. (n.d.). Sensory Integration Therapy.
Retrieved May 02, 2018, from http://www.developmental-delay.com
Davis, K., & Dubie, M. (n.d.). Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved April 12, 2018,
Kranowitz, C. S. (2006). The out-of-sync child has fun: Activities for kids with sensory
integration dysfunction. New York: Penguin Group.