Quite often, autistic children experience sound hypersensitivity, which means that they may find ordinary everyday sounds (such as the toilet flush or clapping hands) distressing. This can cause them to become avoidant of specific places or situations, and/or may result in them displaying what appear to be aggressive or self-harming behaviours. Sound hypersensitivity in autistic people has been found to be linked to psychological processes rather than physiological problems. This means that the distress experience is more likely to be caused by a fear response as opposed to physical pain. Previous research suggests that fears can be reduced with the use of specific therapies (such as cognitive behavioural therapy), but these therapies may not be the most appropriate for autistic children.
Our collaborators, the University of York and Animmersion UK Ltd, have developed a possible solution to help autistic children with sound hypersensitivity become more accustomed to those sounds they otherwise find distressing. ‘SoundFields’, integrates a range of sounds paired with reward during a fun, virtual reality (VR) game. It has previously been used by young autistic children and was found to be helpful in reducing sound-associated anxieties.
We are currently inviting input from autistic children and their families to find out what they like or dislike about it, in order to make improvements. We also aim to test the application using the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, a more accessible and cost-effective alternative to the headsets used in previous testing, making this innovative treatment more accessible to more children.