Auditory defensiveness or sensitive toddler? - Mothering Forums

Forum Jump: 
Thread Tools
#1 of 11 Old 03-13-2009, 10:40 PM - Thread Starter
OGirlieMama's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Long Island, NY
Posts: 1,900
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
I've always noticed that one of my 3-year-old daughters, Lilly, has been sensitive to sound. When she was a tiny infant, if someone would close the front door loudly, she'd startle. She's always hated the vacuum cleaner. Luckily for her I'm a lousy housekeeper and we only have one large rug in our entire home, but even now when I vacuum, I have to send her out of the room and she is usually in tears when I finish. She's only recently learned to live with the dustbuster. If people yell around her or a dog barks loudly, she practically jumps into my arms.

We went to Disney World last week, and while she loved a lot of stuff overall, she had a lot of trouble with loud noises. We saw the fireworks from at least 2 miles away, and she had 10 seconds of "Mommy, it's beautiful!" before the sound hit and she was hysterical. Inconsolable for quite a while even when it finished. We spent one evening of Magic Kingdom fireworks holed up in the farthest end of the bathroom, my hands over her ears, rocking her. Any of the rides that had loud noises (especially the dark ones) got her hysterical. We went to this fun exhibit in Epcot where you can talk to Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo. It's a completely lighthearted experience, full of kid jokes and over-their-heads jokes, but nothing scary. At one point, the friendly whale shows up, accompanied by this kind of deep bass "whale-ish" sound and she went hysterical again - it was awful for her.

Today we were at a local play place, and they had several inflatables. She's been on inflatables before, but one of them was situated such that the blower that keeps it inflated was pretty close to the opening to climb in (not unsafe, just not so far away) and she was petrified, saying the noise scared her. She did eventually go in because her twin sister held her hand and went with her, and after that she was OK with it. But it got me wondering.

Would you consider these signs of anything deeper going on? The girls were born 11 weeks premature, so I am probably a little overly alert to potential issues. I know a lot of kids get scared by loud noises, but in each of the situations I described, she was the only kid who was even remotely disturbed. (Well, her sister started getting upset at some of the Disney stuff, but I think that was basically because Lilly was upset, because she was fine watching fireworks outside with my husband and our friends when Lilly was out of earshot). Are there guidelines for when to be concerned and when to just write it off as something she'll outgrow? Any wisdom you can offer would be appreciated.


Betsy, mama to beautiful, strong MZ twins Lillian and Kate, born 11 weeks early on January 10, 2006.
OGirlieMama is offline  
#2 of 11 Old 03-14-2009, 09:27 AM
LauraLoo's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: By the light of the silvery moon
Posts: 3,679
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
You may want to look at Auditory Processing Disorders to see if some of the symptoms relate to her. Sometimes people with APD have a difficult time hearing sounds, such as speech, in noisy backgrounds or localizing where sounds are coming from which can be kind of scary, of course. Heightened sensitivity to all sounds seems to be a common symptom for APD.

This could definitely be something that she outgrows with time, as well. But if you don't see some improvement over time, you may want to explore APD a little further. Testing isn't definitive until around the age of 7, but some testing before this age can be done.

Laura - Mom to ds (10) and dd (7) "Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life." Brian Andreas.

LauraLoo is offline  
#3 of 11 Old 03-15-2009, 11:21 PM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Kingston, NY
Posts: 932
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Hey Bets--

I'd say it's only a problem when it's a problem--which is to say, if it's not impeding her development and only really shows itself when she's confronted with loud noises, probably the only thing to do is deal with *that*. Try getting her some noise blocking headphones if she'll tolerate them--you can try a sporting goods store, or there are plenty of places that carry them online.

Good luck!
BetsyNY is offline  
#4 of 11 Old 03-15-2009, 11:53 PM
tuck's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 441
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
If we were at Disney with you we would have met while holding our kids ears and running from the fireworks We went last April with our son, who was five. We knew he had super sensitive hearing, so did lots of research beforehand and avoided anything loud and/or startling. We thought that the night show at Epcot would be okay but it was terrible for him. We couldn't leave fast enough.We watched the MK fireworks from across the lagoon, on the Polynesian beach, so were able to enjoy that. (If you go again to Disney I recommend that. Take the monorail to the hotel then walk out back to the beach-its perfect. The music is piped in but not loudly, and you cant hear the fireworks).
Ds has gotten much more tolerant as he gets older, and is greatly helped by being prepped for startling situations. He says the loudness bothers him, but the startle factor is much worse. Humor helps too, and getting him excited about silly things. He sat through the Hoop de Doo with his ears covered much of the time, even asking us to press tighter, but he LOVED the show. He laughed through it all at reported that it was a favorite of the trip.
When he was a baby, he was ( and still is if I'm being totally honest) super sensitive in all areas. He was a great nurser but terrible napper, waking when I opened my Polar water can from 3 rooms away! As a toddler he would run to the window to see the helicopter he knew was coming that I didn't even remotely hear. He sleeps with a sound machine at night now and that helps a lot.
He doesn't have any AP issues and in fact has fantastic language skills. We have just had to adjust- getting putty ear plugs to see a 3D movie he wanted to see at a museum last week, for example. There is NO WAY he could tolerate an Omni show, but he is just matter of fact about it. It bothers me to see him so sensitive and anxious at times, but I figure thats the flip side to being a sensitive kid in all areas. He is the nicest, most loving child and so AWARE of everything around him, and it has gotten much better with time....
tuck is offline  
#5 of 11 Old 03-16-2009, 01:47 AM
LynnS6's Avatar
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Pacific NW longing for the Midwest
Posts: 12,446
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 1 Post(s)
I would read up on Sensory Processing Disorder and keep an eye on her. What your describing could equally well have described our ds at that age. Fireworks induced panic, loud places such as Disney were simply way too much, and even things like blowers with loud noises were very very hard for him to deal with. Ds also had an extreme startle reflex as an infant and was quite traumatized by fireworks when he was 2 (he refused to go outside after the 4th of July - a little extreme?)

Ds was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) at age 5. We didn't have him evaluated before then because I wanted to see if he outgrew this fear. But he never got over it, he got worse if anything. Ds also had tactile sensitivities and a fine motor delay (those also spurred me toward an evaluation). The evaluation also revealed motor planning issues (moderate) and significant issues with his vestibular system - he couldn't figure out where in space his body was. That contributed to the sound defensiveness because he couldn't tell where the sounds were coming from.

I was very sound sensitive as a child, to the point that when there were thunderstorms, my mom would have to hold me in a darkened bedroom with all the shades drawn. I still hate loud noises (so my kids' latest trick of sneaking up on each other and shouting BOO! is shortening my life!). Most of my nieces and nephews were well into their late childhood before they could tolerate fireworks. And our one Disney experience (Disneyland) with our kids when they were 3 and 6 was not a success as far as rides go. Ds (my SPD kid) went on 1 ride - Pinocchio - was terrified and refused all others. Dd went on Dumbo, then Pinocchio - was terrified and then refused all others. My kids appear to be very very sensitive not only to sound but the emotional content of a lot of stuff and implied threats.

At 3, it's hard to say whether your daughter is just sensitive or could benefit from some occupational therapy (OT). The book I like best about SPD is: Sensational Kids. I'd also read The Highly Sensitive Child. I've got one of each (one SPD, one 'plain' Highly Sensitive) and so both books have been quite helpful for me.
beanma likes this.

Lynnteapot2.GIF, academicreading.gif,geek.gif wife, WOHM  to T jog.gif(4/01) and M whistling.gif (5/04)
LynnS6 is offline  
#6 of 11 Old 03-16-2009, 02:14 AM
mamafish9's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 4,451
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
My DD was very sensitive to sound at that age - your post could well have described her. She's 5.5 now, and with the exception of loud, flushing toilets (which she doesn't like, but can tolerate), sounds don't really bother her any more. I think once she got to the point where she could anticipate the fun, and look "beyond" the noise to what else was happening, the noises weren't so traumatic any more.

Anyhow, just one example of a kid "growing out" of the extreme sound sensitivities. Sometimes I think my DD and DS split one autism diagnosis between them - he got the social stuff and she got the sensory stuff , but her sensory issues (primarily sound and food textures) really have virtually disappeared as she has matured.

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win. ~Jonathan Kozel
mamafish9 is offline  
#7 of 11 Old 03-17-2009, 12:56 AM - Thread Starter
OGirlieMama's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Long Island, NY
Posts: 1,900
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Thank you so much for the thoughtful replies. Betsy, what you said makes a lot of sense, as it doesn't impede her daily functioning most of the time. Although the flushing toilets rang a bell with me - those stupid auto-flushing toilets freak her right out (I know that is pretty common) because she's not in control of when the noise comes.

lberk, it's funny that you said you went to see the fireworks at the Polynesian to avoid the sound. We were at Fort Wilderness (maybe a little further away than the Polynesian) and the sounds were pretty muffled when she had her initial fireworks meltdown.

I've been wanting to read The Highly Sensitive Child for a while now, because the bits and pieces I've read about it do seem like they could be relevant to both my girls. I'll take a look at that and The Sensational Child at the library and see what I see. The quick read I gave to those links about APD don't really seem to apply - the symptoms sound very connected with language issues, and she does not have problems there. It's primarily loud sounds, not conversation.

Thanks again for giving it some thought.

Betsy, mama to beautiful, strong MZ twins Lillian and Kate, born 11 weeks early on January 10, 2006.
OGirlieMama is offline  
#8 of 11 Old 09-13-2011, 11:14 AM
HotMama20008's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2011
Posts: 1
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

My son is also very sensitive to loud noises and someone recommended noise reduction headphones. They solved the problem!! I bought them off Amazon for $12, 3M for Kids Noise Reduction Headphones.


My son doesn't like loud noises: hand dryer, blow dryer, vacuum and literally FREAKED out at the airshow and we had to leave. Then I bought these, brought them on a plane ride, put them on for takeoff and no problem. Then brought them to fireworks, and once the first one started and he started to FREAK out again, I put them on, sat him on my lap and all was fine. We stayed for the whole show and we were up front. He is 3.5. Yes, investige this other stuff, but I read a little on that disorder and that sounds more extreme. When you look at amazon you can read several parent reviews on this product, so many bought and loved these noise reduction headphones and can now attend all kinds of events from Nascar to fireworks with happy little ones.

HotMama20008 is offline  
#9 of 11 Old 09-13-2011, 12:36 PM
Emmeline II's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 8,558
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)

I would do an eval with an OT.


Sometimes "listening" programs help with this.

"It should be a rule in all prophylactic work that no harm should ever be unnecessarily inflicted on a healthy person (Sir Graham Wilson, The Hazards of Immunization, 1967)."
Emmeline II is offline  
#10 of 11 Old 08-31-2012, 09:46 PM
nathan's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 1
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)



I've got a two year old son who will literally have a panic attack when he hears a noise that bothers him. We were at a birthday party today, and he ran and screamed like he was stung by a bee. The reason was because one of those little battery operated toy cars that kids ride on was put out. The car didn't even have any power, so it wasn't even turned on. He just knows the sound from it will hurt him. My wife and I figured out it is an auditory defensiveness problem. He is always saying what is that, and it's something I don't even realize that I heard. Like a faint horn from a train miles away. He is always worried about trucks and motorcycles because of their loud noises. He cries and runs from the vacuum cleaner, the lawnmower, and the hair dryer. He has only just turned two, but I hope that he will outgrow this. He also loves for me to spin him around, and I read this  blog where it can relax the vestibular apparatus. I'm a bit concerned because he also will not relax to eat when he is in a group with other kids. I think it's due to the anxiety from being oversensitive to noise. My son, Jordan, just turned two a month ago. He is very smart, and it has given me anxiety to realize he has auditory defensiveness. I hope this will not hurt him in school. This link below is what made me realize what his problem was. It was frustrating being a father and having an over fearful son, and I couldn't just reason with him to calm him down.


I do think the realization of what is wrong with him will enable us to calm his anxiety because we will be able understand that he is not insanely afraid of objects, but it is a rational fear of an assaulting sound that scares him. I hope this understanding will enable us to gain more trust from our son.

nathan is offline  
#11 of 11 Old 09-24-2012, 04:51 PM
pediatricOT's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)



I am the OT whose blog someone linked to in an earlier reply.  In my clinical opinion, your daughter has an active Moro reflex.  This is an overactive startle response.  Symptoms of a poorly integrated Moro include hypersensitivity to noise, over emotional responses to sensory experiences, and an impaired ability to self soothe.  I would definitely recommend an evaluation by a sensory integration therapist, particularly someone with expertise in evaluating and integrating primitive and postural reflexes.

pediatricOT is offline  

Quick Reply
Drag and Drop File Upload
Drag files here to attach!
Upload Progress: 0

Register Now

In order to be able to post messages on the Mothering Forums forums, you must first register.
Please enter your desired user name, your email address and other required details in the form below.
User Name:
If you do not want to register, fill this field only and the name will be used as user name for your post.
Please enter a password for your user account. Note that passwords are case-sensitive.
Confirm Password:
Email Address
Please enter a valid email address for yourself.
Email Address:


Human Verification

In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.

User Tag List

Thread Tools
Show Printable Version Show Printable Version
Email this Page Email this Page

Forum Jump: 

Posting Rules  
You may post new threads
You may post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off