One of the ironies about children with autism is they are often bothered by loud noises or voices, yet seem completely unaware of their own volume. Sometimes children with autism use noise when they're feeling understimulated. Sometimes, noise can be a sign that they're getting overstimulated. Regardless of the cause, a few visuals and concrete language can help children with autism learn to modulate their voices.
Tactics for Autistic Children
Make a chart on cardstock or posterboard that shows whispering on one end and yelling on the other. In the middle, make a note to show a normal speaking voice. Make cartoon pictures of people yelling, whispering and speaking in a normal voice and add them to the chart.
Laminate the chart and attach a small, plastic clothespin to the edge of it. Move the clothespin to show your child where her voice is. Then, move the clothespin to show your child where her voice should be.
Practice talking in a whisper, a normal talking voice and yelling. Describe settings where each voice would be appropriate. For example, say, "At the library, we use a whispering voice. On the playground, you can yell."
Show your child the visual chart and remind him of the appropriate voice before you go into a certain setting such as a grocery store or church. Say, "Now we're going in the store. We use a normal talking voice here." Reward your child immediately with praise, a sticker or a small treat when he's able to comply.
Teach your child the "Alert" system developed by occupational therapists Sherry Shellenberger and Mary Sue Williams. This program uses a car engine analogy to help children identify when their "motors" are running fast or slow. Learning self-regulation helps your child monitor not only her voice volume, but also her emotional responses.
Write a social story for your child about using the right voice volume in specific settings such as the library, church or at school. Write a few simple, concrete sentences about the problem, why it's important to be quiet and what happens when your child is loud. For example, "I use my whispering voice at the library. Other people are trying to read and study. If I am loud, I will disturb them. They might get angry. The librarian might ask me to leave. When I am quiet, I can stay at the library. The other people can read and study. They feel happy." Add photos or illustrations if you like. Read the story before you go to the specific location.
Children with autism sometimes raise their voices as they experience sensory overload. Watch your child for early signs of overload, such as hand flapping or flushed face and intervene early. Remove your child from the circumstance or offer another way to calm down. Companies such as Boardmaker that sell assistive technology software often offer visuals for teaching voice modulation.