Best Noise-Cancelling Sensory Headphones for Kids with Autism & APD

Updated November 2018

Hearing protection can play a huge role in the life quality of kids with autism and APD. We spent more than 40 hours reviewing some of the most popular sensory headphones for kids from reputable brands. In conclusion, the Muted Hearing Protectors impressed us the most. They offer a lot of protection, they’re comfy and they come in several interesting styles – surely one your kid will like.


Product Overview

If you’ve been out and about in the world, you might have noticed something new: kids walking around with oversized headphones that aren’t plugged into anything.  While it can be easy to mistake these headphones for a fashion statement or the latest wireless technology, they actually serve a vital purpose for the people who wear them by dampening auditory stimulation.  That’s right— these headphones help block sound rather than amplify it!

If you have a child in your life who is autistic or struggles with auditory processing disorder (APD), these headphones might be just what they need to make life easier.  This article will give a brief overview of how these headphones came to be and why they’re becoming more and more popular, along with reviews of some of the top sensory headphones out there.  Don’t worry if you’re unsure what headphones are the best fit for your child- we’re here to help!


Background Information

First things first: there are lots of kids out there who can benefit from sensory headphones even if they don’t have autism or APD.  These types of headphones are an amazing tool for any child who is sensitive to sound or gets overwhelmed in loud or noisy situations. Essentially, these headphones help keep background noise and auditory stimulation at a manageable level for the child, making it easier for them to participate in daily activities without stress.

If you’re not sure whether your child could benefit from sensory headphones, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Does my child cover their ears or cry when there are loud noises around them? (e.g., the vacuum cleaner turns on or an ambulance drives by)
  • Does my child try to avoid environments that may be noisy like school, playgrounds, stores, or public transportation?
  • Does my child seem to act out for no reason when there is a lot of background noise or auditory stimulation?
  • Does my child complain about things being too loud on a regular basis?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, sensory headphones might be a great option to try with your child!  What often happens for children with autism or APD is that everyday sounds disrupt the child’s ability to self-regulate or function in social environments.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the child; their brain is just wired in such a way that they are hypersensitive to auditory stimuli.  Sensory headphones take away just enough of the stimuli for the child to be able to feel comfortable when they’re out an about in the world.


Buying Considerations: Hearing Protection for Kids

So what do you need to know about these types of headphones before making a purchase?  Well, for starters, there are a lot of different models on the market.  Some of the main descriptors you’ll see are “noise-canceling,” “sound blocking,” and “noise reduction.”

Noise-canceling and sound blocking headphones remove the majority of all audio stimuli from an environment.  This can be helpful in certain instances where a child might not be able to tolerate any noise or audio distraction (while they take a test in school, for example), but there are downsides to this type of headphone. The biggest problem is that the wearer will miss out on almost all audio cues around them, which can include someone saying their name, fire alarms, the sound of approaching cars or buses, and other safety-related information.  For this reason, noise-canceling headphones and sound blocking headphones are not recommended for daily use.

Noise reduction headphones, on the other hand, don’t eliminate all sounds.  Instead, they lessen the volume of audio stimuli before it reaches the ear to limit the amount of noise the ear has to process.  That means that a child wearing noise reduction headphones will still be able to take part in conversations, hear the teacher call on them, and go into loud environments without getting overstimulated.  We recommend noise reduction headphones for everyday use since they don’t have the safety risks that full-blown noise-canceling headphones do.

In-Ear vs. Over-Ear

There are some types of headphones that are worn over the ear, while others are worn in-ear.  We generally recommend over-ear headphones, particularly for kids, since they are easier to put on and adjust.  The over-ear design is also helpful for children who might not be able to handle the sensation of something being inside their ear.  You might have to do some explaining to help other adults in your child’s life understand why they need to wear the headphones since the over-ear variety are highly visible, but they can ultimately make the difference between a happy child and one who can’t participate in society.

When Can Sensory Headphones Be Worn?

The easy answer to this question is that your child can wear them any time they feel like it!  Each child processes sound differently, so it’s best to follow their lead on when the headphones might be helpful.  Here are a few different situations where sensory headphones might be helpful:

  • School
  • Grocery store
  • Mall
  • Airports
  • Public transportation
  • Concerts
  • Restaurants
  • Playgrounds
  • Movie theaters
  • On the street
  • Anywhere there may be loud sounds or echoes

Top Picks: Sensory Headphones

If the above information convinced you that sensory headphones might be a good fit for your child, you’re in luck!  We’ve reviewed three of the best sensory headphone options out there and compiled the results of our rigorous testing process here.  Read on and see which of our top three picks might work for your child!

Best Overall

Muted Designer Hearing Protection For Infants & Kids

Muted Designer Hearing Protection For Infants & Kids

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Lots of fun patterns and colors to choose from
  • Rated to 27 decibels
  • Foldable for easy travel and storage

Cons

  • Sizing runs small
  • Semi-expensive
  • Metal pieces can pinch fingers

The Muted Designer headphones are a great all-around choice if you need sensory headphones for your child.  They are rated to 27 decibels, which is the highest rating out of all the headphones we tested. They are very effective at dampening sound.

Our technicians found that these headphones muffled sounds and conversations that were taking place over five feet away from the wearer.  You could still tell that someone was talking or that the TV was on, but you had to focus on the audio or conversation in order to tell exactly what was being said.  If someone talked to the wearer from normal speaking distance (2-3 feet) the volume was noticeably quieter, but the wearer could still easily hold a conversation.

These sensory headphones come in four different colors and patterns.  The ability to choose a pattern they like (or to have more than one pair) is sure to make your child happy!   The headphones are lightweight, which is a huge plus for kids who might not do well being able to feel that they have something touching their head.

Pressure-Free Experience

The ear cups are large and easily covered the tester’s ears.  There is no pressure placed directly on the ear, which minimizes potential soreness or rubbing.  The headband piece is lightly padded and should be comfortable for all-day wear.

Another perk of these sensory headphones is that they are collapsible.  The headband and cups fold down to make the ensemble portable for easy travel and storage.  They can be kept in a diaper bag, backpack, or stroller without taking up too much room if your child only needs to wear them in certain situations.  The foldable design also makes it realistic to keep a spare pair tucked somewhere for emergencies.

One Size Does Not Fit All

One of the only issues we noted with the Muted Design sensory headphones is that they can run small on the sizing.  They are intended to fit young children all the way up to teenagers, but they might be too small depending on the size of your child’s head.  Sensory headphones are meant to have a secure fit to prevent sound from leaking in around the ear cups, but some of our testers said that the overall fit was too tight and caused headaches after wearing the headphones for more than an hour.  If you’re getting these for an older child or teenager, you might want to look into exact measurements to prevent getting headphones that will be uncomfortable or too small.

The other thing to be aware of with these headphones is that little fingers can get pinched in the hinges.  There are both metal and plastic pieces on these headphones, and because they are foldable there are a few more moving parts than on other headphones.  If you have a child who is prone to fidgeting with things or who might take these on and off frequently, be sure to keep an eye on them to prevent pinched fingers.

Overall, the Muted Design sensory headphones are an amazing set.  They offer top-notch sound reduction, a customizable appearance, and several other perks.  We highly recommend them to anyone looking for sensory headphones for an autistic child or any child with sensory processing issues.


Most Comfortable

Vic Firth Kidphones Isolation Headphones for Kids

Vic Firth Kidphones Isolation Headphones for Kids

Pros

  • Specifically sized for kids
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Middle of the road cost-wise

Cons

  • Minimal color selection
  • Only rated to 22 decibels
  • Not adjustable

The Vic Firth Kidphones are a solid choice for children who need sensory headphones.  They have a lot going for them in a simple package, including being the pair of headphones that our testers said felt the lightest.

The headphone design is simple, with large earcups set onto sturdy metal bands.  Because the headband is only lightly padded at the top with no extra material covering the metal bands on the sides, these headphones are easy to wear for long durations without them becoming uncomfortable.

Solid & Comfortable Protection

The ear cups are large and well padded, and our testers didn’t notice any discomfort with them.  The cups rotate to accommodate different angles and head widths, making it easy to get a good seal around the ears.

The Vic Firth sensory headphones provided high-quality sound reduction.  Our testers observed that these headphones allowed through the most sound out of our top three picks, but that they still do an excellent job at reducing background noise and conversations to a manageable level.  These would work well for a child who isn’t quite as sensitive to sound but still needs a little bit of a buffer when they’re out in public or in loud situations.

The biggest downside to these headphones is that the headband isn’t adjustable.  They’re meant to be one-size-fits-all, but just because they can fit onto someone’s head doesn’t mean that they will provide an effective fit for noise reduction.  The Vic Firth headphones are sized for children, which means that they are smaller than headphones you would expect for an adult.  As a result, if you are looking for sensory headphones for an older child or teenager, these are probably not going to be the best fit.

That said, these headphones are a solid purchase.  The cost is lower than the Muted Design headphones, and many kids with autism love how light and unnoticeable these sensory headphones feel while wearing them.  As long as you keep the sizing in mind, these could easily be your child’s new favorite pair of headphones!


Best Budget

Snug Kids Earmuffs Adjustable Headband Ear Defenders

Snug Kids Earmuffs Adjustable Headband Ear Defenders

Pros

  • Wide color selection
  • 5-year guarantee
  • Adjustable and foldable
  • Low price
  • Rated to 25 decibels

Cons

  • Sizing runs large
  • May be too tight for some children

The Snug Kids Earmuffs are an awesome option if you’re looking for sensory headphones for your child.  These headphones are well known, and they have thousands of positive reviews online testifying to their quality.

These sensory headphones are adjustable, which is a hugely helpful feature if your child is still growing!  The headband is nicely padded, and our testers did not notice any discomfort with it.

The ear cups provided some of the best coverage out of the different sensory headphones we tested.  They are highly padded, which ensures maximum comfort and a tight seal around the ear to block out noise.  These headphones are rated to 25 decibels, placing them in the middle of models we reviewed.

Comes with a 5-Year Guarantee

One of the biggest perks of the Snug Kids Earmuffs is that they come with a 5-year guarantee.  The headphones are sturdy and the materials used appear to be durable, but it’s still nice to know that if anything happens to them you have a 5year guarantee to fall back on.

Speaking of the headphone design, these sensory headphones come in the widest variety of colors out of all the headphones we tested!  There are numerous colors and patterns, making it a fun process for your child to select which one they want.

With regards to sizing, these headphones should be able to fit most children.  They might not fit infants or extremely small children as well due to the way the headband is connected to the ear cups, so take that into consideration.  If you have a toddler or older child, the Snug Kids Earmuffs should fit just fine.

The main drawback to these sensory headphones is that they might be a little too tight for some kids.  It’s important that the ear cups have enough tension on them from the headband to keep them pressed tightly against the head and reduce sound, but the Snug Kids Earmuffs are definitely tighter than the other headphones we tested.  If your child is highly sensitive to pressure, these might be too much for them to comfortably wear for long periods of time.

On the whole, the Snug Kids Earmuffs are a quality investment if your child needs sensory headphones.  They’re a great budget option, as they’re the least expensive pair we reviewed, but they certainly don’t sacrifice quality for cost.


Verdict: Noise-Cancelling Hearing Protection

Still not sure which pair of sensory headphones is right for your child?  Here is our final recommendation.

If your child is highly sensitive to sound and needs maximum noise reduction, the Muted Design headphones are rated to 27 decibels, meaning they reduce sound the most out of any of the sensory headphones we tested.

If your child doesn’t do well being able to feel things touching them or pressing against them, the Vic Firth sensory headphones are your best bet.  They were the lightest and least obtrusive pair that we tested, and many of our testers reported not even remembering they were wearing them after a while because they were so comfortable.

If your child is sensitive to sound but you’re not sure whether sensory headphones will help, the Snug Kids Earmuffs are a great test pair.  They’re inexpensive enough to get a pair and see how they work for your child before deciding if you want a more expensive pair.  But who knows – your child might like the Snug Kids Earmuffs so much you don’t need another pair at all!

Regardless of what sensory headphones you choose for your child, you can rest easy knowing that these headphones are made to make your child’s life easier – and what parent doesn’t want that?

If you have any specific questions on the sensory headphones we’ve reviewed here, feel free to send us a message and we’re happy to help make sure that you have all the information you need to confidently purchase sensory headphones for your child.


SoundWiz is a participant in several affiliate programs. We may get paid when you click on external links. Read more here.