A common problem for people on the autism spectrum is the oversensitivity to noises. Dogs barking, cars honking and the chatter of other people on the street can be an annoyance at best, and an outright sensory assault at worst, depending on how sensitive you are.
There exist several earpieces and headphones to help you silence this background noise. The problem is that each person prefers, or is annoyed by, different things. Some may enjoy the heavy pressure that big headphones provide them, but others can´t stand it, and wearing them would just make them feel worse.
So, to that end, I made a small flowchart infographic to help you find the best way to deal with those annoying sounds. Below the chart, I expand my reasoning to explain the choices if you are interested in knowing my thought process.
The whole flowchart is divided at the start into people who like to feel strong pressure around their ears, versus those who prefer light or no pressure at all. Those that prefer heavy pressure follow the green line and those who prefer light pressure follow the brown one.
The second divisor question is about utility. Maybe you are only looking for a way to shut the outside world and don´t care how it happens. If that´s the case, an ear muffler or earplug is going to be better the (and cheaper) alternative for you.
Even expensive headphones struggle to block sounds as well as a pair of mufflers do. This is because mufflers (and earplugs) are designed to prevent soundwaves from reaching your ears (this is what is called, passive noise canceling), while the headphones are not (usually) built for that task.
To compete with this, many modern headphones opt to use Active Noise Cancelling technology to bridge the gap. If you want to know what that technology is and how it compares with passive noise canceling, we wrote an article about it in the past.
This is why, if you are looking to block out all sounds and don´t mind the pressure and size, there is nothing better than a pair of the ear mufflers used in shooting ranges, like the Pro For Sho. They rate the highest on the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) and aren´t as uncomfortable as some of its peers:
A downside to keep in mind, however, is that they can be a bit too good at blocking background sounds, so don´t wear them at places where you need to hear external cues, like when you are driving a car or pedaling a bike.
If you can´t stand having heavy mufflers around your ears, then an earplug would be a better choice. The ideal one is the Ear Dial Earplug. Not only does it do a good job at comfortably blocking out sounds, but it is almost invisible as well.
When you are wearing them, you can hopefully avoid the uncomfortable conversation with strangers on why are you wearing earplugs in the street.
However, a lot of people can´t stand the feeling of having something up their ear canal, in that case, you need an external way to block it, and that’s where the silicone earplugs come in. While they are more noticeable than the Ear Dial, they don´t go into your ear, so you don´t have to deal with that annoying sensation.
All right then, those are the options available if you only want to block out external sounds, but what if you are also looking for a general-purpose headphone, or are interested in Active Noise Cancellation?
As said before, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a technology that a lot of headphones use. It works by “listening” to the ambient noise around and then producing its own “anti-noise” to nullify it. It is good at counteracting persistent ambient noises but it struggles with sudden, high-pitched sounds.
For those who don´t like the pressure of heavy headphones, your best option is the Bose´s Quiet Comfort 20. These are headphones with Active Noise Cancelling technology (again, check our article here if you want to know more about it) that are made precisely to silence the background noise in your environment. Their only comparative disadvantage is that as they are premium headphones and their price reflects it.
If they are too costly for you, then the Go 410 is a more affordable option that still uses similar ANC tech.
But, if that´s still too expensive, a pair of Apple Earpods are a cheaper alternative. They don´t have ANC tech, but they can still block external sounds by design. You can also use them to drown out the environment by listening to music more to your liking.
Their circular design means they don´t go deep into your ear canal, which makes them a bit more comfortable than their competition.
For those that prefer or don’t mind ear encasing headphones, the Sennheiser PXC 550 is pretty much built to block out most external noises, at a very steep price. If you have the money, you will be hard-pressed to find a better option.
But money isn´t infinite, and your budget is probably smaller than its price. If you are looking for headphones near the 100$ price range, the Bose Quiet Comfort 25 is another excellent alternative that does exactly what you expect. It is currently on sale, so go get it while it´s still, comparatively, cheap.
Going even cheaper, the COWIN E7is another good pair of headphones that cost around 50 $. They are a bit bulkier than the Bose, but nonetheless, they do a good job at blocking out sounds.
Finally, the Sonitum M35 is the cheaper alternative. While you might be able to find less expensive headphones out there, they will seldom come with the Active Noise Cancellation technology that the M35 provides, and that is essential in drowning out background noise.
And there you go, these are my picks at good headphones, earplugs and ear mufflers for people on the autism spectrum. They each do a pretty good job at blocking out sounds, which one is the best for you is up to your personal preferences and budget.
Let me know what you think. If you agree or disagree with my choices, or if know another good pick to add to the chart.
This flowchart lets you find a headphone that is good at blocking out external noises, but if you are looking for more gaming-oriented headsets, we have a list of them here. And don’t forget to join our mailing list if you want us to notify you when one of these headphones go on sale.