Headphones

Why headphones?

Well sound sensitivity is a common cause of problems for people with autism. It varies a lot and the outcomes can be dramatic when a sudden sound hits that sensitive spot. Now, remember that saying of “if you have met one autistic child you have met one autistic child”. Well this is no different and the stuff I am sharing here applies well to Tam but your mileage will vary.

Types of headphones.

You will see some kids with what I can only describe as industrial ear defenders. You know the type, just go to a construction area and you should see plenty of workmen wearing them. I personally don’t like them and they are not cool. Having autism should not exclude you from being cool. They are however cheap, I got some for Tam and paid less than £10 and they had all of the kite marks and safety certifications that are needed for working on a building site. Don’t spend any more than that, they all meet the same regulations and anything else is hype and money making. I have seen one autism “charity” charging £40 for them stating all kinds of ridiculous marketing speak, don’t fall for it.

Anyway, I tried the ear defenders and Tam did not like them, he really did not like them. Wouldn’t wear them.

The only thing to be said for them is that they can offer a lot of noise reduction (30Db) and yes they can be customised and painted to be a little bit more cool, but face it, they will never be cool.

So I have taken a different approach and looked at a lot of different solutions.

  1. In ear monitors
  2. Over ear sound cancelling
  3. Over ear sound isolating
  4. On ear sound isolating
  5. Basic over ear standard cheap headphones.

Now to get things straight I am not talking about buying Apple, Beats, or any high end or high style headphones which cost £100s to £1000s, I am talking about stuff that can take a bit of punishment, be thrown in a bag and make sense for taking the edge off noises and also listening to music or videos.


So the ones that I have tried with Tam are:

Beyerdynamic DT240 - these are on the ear (they sit on the ear rather than the head with the ear cupped inside). The pros are

  • Very well built, really solid
  • Not expensive £60
  • Sound is really good
  • Quite a good level of isolation
  • Long curly cable
  • Small and unobtrusive
  • Spares available

Downsides

  • A little sweaty (on ears can even be in cold weather)
  • Pressure on the ears might not suite some people
  • They have a cable
  • No active noise reduction

Beyerdynamic DT770 - these are over the ear (sit on the head with the ear cupped inside). The pros are

  • Really really comfortable
  • Sound really really good
  • Great isolation
  • Long chunky curly cable
  • Very well built
  • Spares available

Downsides

  • Quite big
  • No active noise cancellation
  • A bit heavy
  • They have a chunky cable

Bose QuietComfort - over the ear. Pros are

  • Lightweight
  • Decent sound
  • Not much isolation (better for getting Tams attention)
  • Not too loud
  • Neat and low profile
  • Spares available

Downsides

  • Feel a little fragile compared to the BeyerDynmanic headphones
  • Ear pads wear out quickly
  • Straight cable
  • Not much isolation

Sennheisser Noise Cancelling Bluetooth - over ear and wireless. Pros are

  • Bluetooth, no cable required
  • Decent sound
  • Noise cancelling can be activated without music or sound
  • Can be used with a cable

Downsides

  • Need to be charged
  • Quite big and heavy
  • Buttons are really fiddly and not obvious what they do (don’t lose the manual)
  • Ear cups don’t last long
  • Noise cancellation feels like pressure in the ear with no music playing

Now the Bose and Sennheisser were presents and I think the Bose cost about £190 and the Sennheissers cost about £250. I did not buy either of them and to be honest compared to the BeyerDynamic headphones they are not worth the money.

The more observant among you will have realised that I have not mentioned in-ear monitors. Well I tried them with Tam and used the ones that I have and they did not go down well. He just did not like them in his ears. I have to admit that I had to get used to them and now love them as they give a bit of isolation and sound great. Also they are almost invisible when they are in your ears. Afterwards I thought about Tam and his ear infections that he seems prone to and I don’t think they are a good idea for him.

The cable/wireless thing is something that you will need to decide on. Tam is fine with cables and like most kids he will play with the cable. I have not had any problems with him wrapping the cable around his neck. Something to take into account though. What I have found is that if the batteries die when we are out and about is that it creates more problems than the headphones have saved. That is why we only have wired headphones.


Now you may have also noticed that I keep going on about how these head phones sound. Well, for Tam this is pretty important. He hates really base heavy sound and also really does not like lots of high treble as well. I think the high frequency treble affects him more and I am more aware of high pitched sounds as being a possible trigger. So with that in mind I always look for any sound making equipment that has a neutral sound. What does that mean I hear you ask? Well it means looking at makes that are used in studios like BeyerDynamic and Sony. It also means that Apple and Beats are ruled out as they are either bass heavy or too bright with the high frequencies turned up. These kind of headphones just don’t work for Tam, he needs a more natural sound and that you get with proper studio headphones. Now you might think that is going to be expensive, but its not. The BeyerDynamic headphones cost about £109 for the DT770 and £69 for the DT240. Compare that to the £200 to over £400 for the Apple and Beats equivalents.

As one more consumer make headphones we tried were Sony MDR7506 and they were really good and cost £109. Also something that has had some success as a backup are the JLabs JBuddies we got from John Lewis. £20 for the wired version and £30 for the bluetooth version.

So in summary, think carefully about what your child really needs and take cool into the equation. Tam has thrived on being able to listen to music while we are out and about. He has a choice of headphones to use and generally picks the (cheapest) BeyerDynamic DT240’s. Sometimes they are just in the bag, sometimes on his ears but unplugged and sometimes playing music (a link to his current favourite is at the bottom of this post). Sorry it’s a long post but I really hope that this helps someone. It is a whole bunch of trial and error but I think it is a marketplace that is full of hype and dishonesty about what makes good headphones. Well the truth is your child will tell you how good they are by wearing them. Tams recommendation is BeyerDynamic DT240.

Tams favourite music at the moment