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Ready for this summer’s cicada noise?

Developmental pediatrician offers tips for parents to prepare sound-sensitive kids
Cicada emergence
The periodical cicada is back, having last emerged 17 years ago. It’s a good idea to prepare all children for the loud noise of the large insects buzzing in harmony this summer.

As Chicagoans deal with the mass emergence of cicadas this month, children on the autism spectrum or those who have sensitivities to sound might find it to be an overwhelmingly noisy summer.

So, what can parents do to prepare?

“Some children on the spectrum can struggle with loud or unexpected noises, such as toilets that automatically flush, fireworks around the Fourth of July or the emergence of a large number of cicadas,” said Dr. Rachel Follmer, assistant professor of developmental behavioral pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“Sometimes, when they’re prepared that something will be loud, they may be better able to tolerate the sound,” she said. “It’s not just that the sound is loud but that it happens unexpectedly.”

Dr. Follmer provided some steps parents can take to prepare their children:

  • Look at photos of cicadas to explain what they are and why they’re emerging
  • Watch YouTube videos or listen to audio clips to hear what the cicadas will sound like
  • Use social stories (stories that walk a child through an experience in advance) to help children prepare
  • Develop a plan of what to do if the sound is too loud, such as having headphones or ear plugs on hand, going back inside or using an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device or tools to help the child communicate that it’s “too loud.”

“Because some children on the spectrum have communication difficulties, they might not be able to explain how they’re feeling, so it’s helpful to give them tools in advance that may help them to communicate,” Dr. Follmer said.

In fact, she said, it wouldn’t hurt to prepare all children for the summer’s noisy buzz.

“All children can be sensitive to sound regardless of being on the spectrum,” Dr. Follmer said. “The Fourth of July is a perfect example.”

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