If you are on the autism spectrum like me or you have an autistic child or family member, you probably know sounds and too much sensory stimuli can stress us out. Everything is loud and harsh to our ears and too much noise can cause a meltdown. Luckily, there’s an easy way to reduce sensory overload with autism — noise canceling headphones!
- Best Ear Defenders with Speakers for Autism: 3M WorkTunes — our #1 most recommended item!
- Best Ear Defenders for Autistic Adults: Walker Slim Passive Earmuff — lower-profile yet effective
- Best Ear Defenders for Autistic Children: Zohan Kids Ear Protection — so many fun colors and patterns
- Best Sound Blocking Earplugs for Autistic Adults: Loop Quiet — blocks nearly all noise so you can sleep or concentrate
- Best Sound Filtering Earplugs for Autistic Adults: Loop Engage — filters loud and annoying sounds while allowing you to hear conversations
- Best Filtering Earplugs for Autistic Kids: Loop Engage Kids — fit children and adults with small ear canals.
- Best Budget Noise-Canceling Headphones for Autism: Soundcore Space One — Do noise-canceling headphones hurt or make you dizzy? Do you need to adjust levels for situational awareness when walking? Try these for under $100!
- Best High-End Noise-Canceling Headphones for Sensitive Hearing: Bose 700 —
- Best Over-Ear Noise-Canceling Headphones for Autism: Bose Quiet Comfort 45 — worth every penny for the peace and focus you’ll gain
- Best Noise-Canceling Earbuds for Autistic Adults: Soundcore Space A40 — excellent audio quality at a fair price
- Best Sleep Headphones for Autism: Dormiphones — drift off in comfort every night
Autism Noise Canceling Headphones Can Prevent Meltdowns
I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 14. At first I was surprised — “What? I’m autistic?” — but when I started reading about autism it made so much sense. Finally I had a way to understand myself. I started talking to other actually autistic people online and told them about my problems with loud noises. They said many people on the autism spectrum are extremely sensitive to sound and it’s one of the major causes of sensory overload and meltdowns.
My new autistic friends suggested I get earplugs and noise canceling headphones and wear them whenever I’m going to be in a place with loud or annoying sounds. I did and they helped so much that headphones became one of my special interests! I’m obsessed with finding the very best autism noise canceling headphones. I’ve learned that headphones can also help other neurodivergent people with conditions like sensory processing disorder and ADHD. Along with autism sensory toys, they are a major tool in my meltdown prevention toolkit.
Types of Headphones
I learned there are 3 kinds of headphones that can help with sound if you have autism and/or sensory processing disorder. They are noise reduction headphones and earplugs, noise canceling headphones, and sleep headphones. Here’s everything you need to know about them from an autistic perspective!
Autism Noise Reduction Headphones
If you have severe noise sensitivity because of autism or you are going to be around extremely loud sounds, like fireworks, guns, or an arena concert, noise reduction headphones are the perfect choice! Noise reduction (also called noise isolation) headphones block sound by covering or sealing your ear. They can be either ear plugs that go in your ears or big headphones that enclose your ears. They are made with materials that filter sound, so they do a good job of lowering the volume of the world to something we autistics can stand! I’ve divided these into two groups, those that have speakers and those that do not.
Autism Ear Defenders
These full-ear protectors block more sound than any other type of headphone. They can be kind of bulky, so you have to adjust them carefully and your head might get sore after wearing them for hours. But they are not expensive and they work really well, so that’s why I’m listing them first! Every actually autistic person I have met has at least one pair of these. These are strictly earmuffs and block sound, they don’t have speakers.
Vanderfields Shooting Ear Protection Earmuffs - Cancelling Safety Ear Muffs for Noise Reduction Hearing - Adult
Autism Ear Defenders with Bluetooth Sound
These ear defenders are the best of both worlds — they block ambient noise and can play music. They are also good for folks who experience dizziness or a weird sensation when wearing active noise canceling headphones.
3M WorkTunes Connect + Gel Ear Cushions Hearing Protector with Bluetooth Wireless Technology, NRR 23 dB, Hearing protection for Mowing, Snowblowing, Construction, and Work Shops
5 used from $72.12
Autism Ear Plugs
I’m proud to be autistic. I’m not broken, just different, and it’s given me gifts like my special interests and my memory! Buuuuuut… that doesn’t mean I always want to walk around with a giant pair of sound blocking headphones over my ears. It makes people think I don’t want to talk to them when actually I do. And when I was in high school, wearing big ear defenders to class made me a target for bullies and classmates constantly asking “Why are you wearing those?”
So if you want to be less obvious, or if you have a kid who is being teased for their huge autism noise canceling headphones, ear plugs are the solution! I like the ear plugs designed for going to concerts and the custom molded kind for musicians.
Featured Ear Plugs for Autism — Loop
After testing lots of ear plugs, Loop have become my favorites for several reasons:
- They’re unobtrusive but also easy to put in and take out
- They are reusable and easy to clean
- The Loop Experience and Engage allow me to wear them indoors and outdoors but still talk to people and hear approaching cars
- I got through a month with a bad neighbor who yelled and blasted music all the time using the Loop Quiet models. Luckily he moved, but I wouldn’t have survived without them!
Here’s a great explanation of the differences between the 3 Loop models, written by Aaryn S. who has autism and ADHD:
“The Loop Engages DAMPEN sound, meaning you will still hear everything to a lesser and gentler degree. The Experiences FILTER sound, meaning things like background noise and far-off conversation will be muted and filtered out, there are things you may not hear any other, louder things you will hear. The Quiets BLOCK sound, silencing everything equally.
With the Experiences, I can hear things like my breathing and swallowing; with the Engages, those things are either inaudible or far from noticeable. With the Engage Plus mutes inserted, they feel a lot closer to the Quiets than Experience Plus, and overall I find the Engage more comfortable and versatile.”
I agree with Aaryn — the Loop Engage Plus model is my favorite, because they are effectively two kinds of earplugs for the price of one. When I’m out, I use them without the mutes, and at night, I add the mutes for sound sleep.
Buy Autism Earplugs Direct from Loop
Featured Earplugs — Flare Calmer
Flare Calmer earplug alternatives are a groundbreaking innovation designed specifically for individuals with sound sensitivities. By promoting a sense of calm and reducing sensory distractions, Flare Calmer earplugs empower neurodivergent people to navigate our world more comfortably. The earplugs are made from soft silicone, ensuring a gentle fit for sensitive ears. With their advanced noise reduction technology, they effectively filter overwhelming sounds that can trigger sensory overload, allowing autistic people to better regulate our environment.
Flare earplugs are discreet and portable, making them ideal for everyday use at home, school, or in public spaces. They come in both subtle and bright colors, and in child and adult sizes. I find that the Calmer ear inserts filter and improve sound quality extremely well, but they don’t reduce volume much. However, they have a Night model that works great if you need to filter out sharp, jarring sounds to help you sleep.
Flare is a small company that engineers, develops, and tests their products in-house. They care about our community and actively seek out feedback on their designs from autistic people — and it shows in the quality of their products! You can help them (and The Ability Toolbox) by buying directly from their website via the links below instead of through a big online retailer (cough cough).
Buy Autism-Friendly Filtering Earplugs Direct from Flare
Earplugs on Amazon
If you have autism, headphones are perfect for places where you’re trying to work or listen to music to reduce anxiety but there’s background noise, like coffee shops and the bus or train. A big, padded pair of headphones is soothing to my ears, and listening to music helps with my anxiety and sensory processing issues. Some loud places will always be hard for me to visit as an actually autistic person, but my headphones absolutely help. I can go to restaurants and ride the bus to work! I have misophonia which means certain sounds are painful to hear, like people chewing gum. I would have to leave if somebody was chewing gum around me. Now, with my noise canceling headphones, it doesn’t bother me as much.
Autism Noise Canceling Headphones
Active noise canceling headphones use microphones to pick up the noise around you, create an opposite (phase-reversed) noise, and send it to your headphones so the sounds cancel each other out. Noise canceling headphones work best with lower-frequency sounds such as engines and machinery humming. Combined with a solid fit over or in the ears for noise isolation, they do a great job filtering out background sounds, but if someone speaks directly to you, you’ll usually hear them. This can be a game-changer for autistic people who must navigate busy places or deal with loud noises at school or work.
Active Noise Canceling Headphones for Autism: Budget
For options under $100, these are the best value. You’ll be surprised at what you can get for a fairly modest price. If you’re looking for affordable but still good quality, I recommend Soundcore and Cowin/Silensys.
Featured Budget ANC Headphones — Soundcore Space One
I continue to test headphones all the time and I have new affordable favorites! Here’s what I love about Soundcore Space One:
- They have 5 different noise cancelling modes (up from 3 in the older Life Q30 model), so they can filter out the right type of sound for every situation. They filter traffic and wind noise, train, plane, and bus engines, and cancel background chatter. They can even auto-adjust to the ambient noise around you. This is an incredibly useful feature.
- They include multiple microphones to pinpoint and amplify your voice, which means your voice will be clear and easy to understand when you make calls and video chat.
- All Anker Soundcore models are comfortable and I can wear them for hours without pain
- Great quality from a reputable brand
- Discount coupons are often available when you buy direct from the company (it helps The Ability Toolbox out more, too!)
Recommended Low-Cost Autism Headphones with Coupons
Get 15% off when you buy Soundcore headphones from the manufacturer’s website. It really helps us when you choose these over Bezos. Don’t worry, they have fast shipping!
Featured Budget Noise Canceling Headphones — Silensys
Silensys were the first noise canceling headphones I bought and I still recommend them. Here are some reasons why you might like them too:
- Ultra affordable. If budget is a big concern for you, Silensys headphones are an ideal choice. They have a model under $50 and a model under $100.
- Good noise canceling. Impressive for the price; even the cheapest model does a good job.
- Comfortable for the price. I had the E7 first and lost them, then upgraded to the E9. The cheaper ones were fine for 4 hours of steady use, but I can be very content using the upgraded model through an 8-hour workday with no issues.
- Colorful! If you love bright colors like I do, you’ll love their wide range of options! Of course, they also have black and white if you want something neutral.
Autism Friendly Budget Headphones on Amazon
Active Noise Canceling Headphones for Autism: High-End
High-end headphones are worth the price, especially if you have severe hyperacusis. Before buying, consider your priorities in terms of sound quality, comfort, aesthetics, and trendiness. You can find a balance that works for you.
Featured High-Quality Noise Canceling Headphones — Bose
If you are all about sound quality, Bose headphones are THE winners. Here are my top two Bose picks and why they’re great:
- I can wear the over-ear Bose QuietComfort 45 all day without my ears or head hurting. The noise canceling can be toggled to Aware Mode so you can hear what’s going on around you when needed.
- The Bose 700 model has adjustable noise canceling which is great for people who get headaches and dizziness from ANC headphones. The sound is outstanding!
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700,Bluetooth, Over-Ear Wireless with Built-In Microphone for Clear Calls & Alexa Voice Control,Black
37 used from $199.95
Featured High-Quality Noise Canceling Headphones — Soundcore
If you want high style and sound quality but your budget is a bit lower, Soundcore Space Q45 is a fantastic model for only around $150.
More Soundcore High-End Autism Headphones
Get 15% off when you buy from the manufacturer’s website.
Featured High-Quality Noise Canceling Headphones — Skullcandy Hesh ANC
Skullcandy is an excellent mid-price brand that gives you a lot for your money. Here’s what I love about my Hesh ANC headphones:
- Super comfortable cans for hours of wear. They’re like pillows for my ears!
- Hours of battery life, too — 22 hours! If I forget to charge them, and I always do, no big deal. They’ll last two days, and if I need a boost, just 10 minutes of charge time gets me 3 more hours of listening.
- Under $150, so losing them wouldn’t be a crisis — but I won’t lose them, because they have Tile built in! This is a real plus for neurodivergents with executive dysfunction like me who always misplace things.
More Recommended High-End Headphones on Amazon
Autism Noise Canceling Earbuds
I don’t like to pay a lot for noise-canceling earbuds because they’re so easy to lose! But the Soundcore Space A40 offer great sound quality at a lower price than AirPods and are well worth the purchase. Sport X10 are a good option for a lower price point and more secure fit.
Recommended Soundcore Earbuds for Autism
Get 15% off when you buy Soundcore noise-canceling earbuds from the manufacturer’s website.
Upgraded noise cancelling system for up to 98% less noise on commutes Enjoy personal space anywhere with adaptive noise cancelling Ultra-long 50-hour playtime Sound with exceptional detail Lightweight for a comfortable fit
Recommended Earbuds on Amazon
Autism Sleep Headphones
I sometimes have trouble sleeping at night. Autism makes my ears so sensitive that I hear even the smallest noises like the heat turning on or my cat walking around in the kitchen. I often need soothing music or a podcast to help me fall asleep. But sleeping in big noise canceling headphones isn’t very comfortable, so I got sleep headphones. I also have an eye mask to wear along with headphones which helps with too much visual stimulation when I’m on a plane or staying at a hotel.
Sleep headphones are perfect for kids on the autism spectrum who might find other kinds of headphones uncomfortable or who keep taking them off. They are also harder to break than regular headphones if your child is having a meltdown. They come in lots of colors and designs to fit your child’s special interests. I loved unicorns as a little girl (OK, I still do) so I got unicorn sleep headphones for my niece who has ADHD. She loves them!
I hope this little guide helps you find the right headphones for yourself or your child on the autism spectrum. Even though I love headphones, I can’t buy every single pair so if you know of some good ones I didn’t mention, please leave a comment and I’ll update this list!
Hey I'm Olivia and I'm a proud Autistic woman. My special interests are cats, stim toys, and electronic music! I love to write and help other Autistic adults find ways to enjoy life in this LOUD world!
Dr. Wilson graduated from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, IL. In addition to her private practice, she works as a science communicator, teaching health literacy in schools and online.