Strategic Use of Color and Sound with Neurodivergent Children

Posted On Tuesday, 25 June 2019
Strategic Use of Color and Sound with Neurodivergent Children

When neurodivergent children experience distress due to triggering colors and sounds in their environment, we want to help.

How can we support children so that they do not experience pain and are able to explore their environments with our guidance? Neurodivergent children who are overwhelmed by specific sounds and color have several therapeutic and options, though conditions like misophonia are still often under-diagnosed and misunderstood.

Complementary therapy can help tremendously with children who aren’t especially verbal. If young ones have trouble with words or happen to be more visually or aurally expressive thinkers, using art and music can help you communicate, convey, and teach basic and complex concepts to them.

Sensory Processing and Misophonia: Real Diagnoses, Real Challenges
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is real, and it’s something some doctors misdiagnose or ignore. Whether it exists independently or is connected to other diagnoses like autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder is characterized by avoidant and seeking behavior. For example, a child might love learning about their world through touch, but certain sounds, like loud airplanes, can send them into a state of distress.

Similarly, some children have misophonia, or a negative reaction to certain sounds. You know how most people dislike the sound of nails on a chalkboard? People with misophonia experience that feeling with a variety of sounds. As you can imagine, it can distract from learning and living, as sounds are all around us. Misophonia often accompanies obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette syndrome, and anxiety, though it’s not always linked to another condition.

Until doctors, teachers, and parents can work together to agree that SPD and misophonia are real conditions that require consideration (whether existing independently or with other conditions), it’s nearly impossible to treat. Occupational therapy has helped many children with SPD.

Therapeutic Options for Misophonia
Using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and introducing colors and sounds with gradual purpose, it is possible to increase a child’s tolerance for distressing stimuli. In fact, CBT has a 48% success rate in patients with misophonia.

Art can also be informative and therapeutic in another way: By allowing a child to artistically express themselves, we can learn what colors they like or find soothing. We can also provide them with artistic tools as a means to focus on something, becoming more tolerant to outside distractions.

While many therapists feel that children need to tolerate certain colors and sounds to function in society, it’s also important that their home, especially their bedroom, is a safe space for them. Finding out which colors and sounds they like can go a long way in increasing comfort. You can incorporate those colors — and even the art your child creates — into the decor of their rooms.

Soundscapes function similarly. Maybe your child hates the sounds cars make but loves seashore sounds. Soundscapes are a simple fix and aren’t seen as abnormal by the outside world.

Art and Music: Finding the Right Medium
Some children with atypical visual or auditory processing will have a variety of reactions to different mediums when it comes to art and music. The blaring sound of a trombone might bother one child, while another could be bothered by the scraping of pencil on paper.

This means that it takes time to find the right medium for each child. It means trying various sounds, musical instruments, and audio tracks. Let the child experience each musical instrument, compact disc, or another music player with each sense if they would like to.

The same goes for art. Is the feeling of the canvas disruptive or soothing? Is damp clay on the hands inspiring panic or calm? These are important aspects to observe.

For many children, the computer is the answer, and digital art is a means of self-expression without traditional, scraping tools.

Art therapy can also help us understand children. If the child gives consent, we can ask them to express in art how certain stimuli make them feel. This generates bonding and empathy between parents and children with misophonia, SPD, ADHD, or autism.

Integrating Color and Sound with ABA Therapy
Neurodivergent kids learn in their own way — and the best way to help them learn is to tailor your teaching to their preferences and abilities. That’s at the core of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. ABA therapists assess a child’s needs and construct therapeutic teaching methods around that.

Since incorporating mental imagery and addressing root causes are important elements of ABA, therapists can use soothing colors and sounds improve learning and increase comfort. If a child doesn’t like the dark, for example, the presence of a soothing soundtrack might signal to them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

In diagnosis and therapy, family support is crucial. Some adults and teens with misophonia report that others failing to believe them results in isolation and depression. If you have a child with these issues in your family, classroom, or medical office, believing them is the first step on the path to treatment — and the best way to combat the powerlessness you may feel when you watch them in distress.

Ainsley Lawrence

Ainsley Lawrence is a writer who loves to talk about good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. She is frequently lost in a good book.

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