Kid-sized silencing solutions?
August 6, 2019 10:34 PM   Subscribe

Smallest is 7 and wants to hear nothing at times. I have the 3M ear protection mufflers which she quite likes but they still allow some noise to come through. She wants absolute silence. The other thing is to have more options than over-the-head because there's a possibility she could be allowed to wear this at school sometimes (disability request). She has sharp physical hearing and a small-adult/big child head. Before I spend $300 on noise-cancelling headphones, is there something that just cancels? Earplugs is too finicky for school.
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Shopping (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Silicone putty ear plugs are quite effective. (They are not totally silent, of course. I'm not sure that's possible, even with noise-cancelling headphones TBH.)
posted by richb at 2:06 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]

If you live somewhere with a proper gun range--not like the ones where I grew up where they were basically lean tos in the woods populated by dudes with more guns than teeth, but like an actual place that is staffed and has equipment--go there. Or call first I guess. They should have sport/tactical ear protection available for rent or borrow. Kid can try some on in a real world situation and see if it achieves what she's looking for. Try before you buy.
posted by phunniemee at 4:46 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]

Absolute silence is, unfortunately, impossible. The best you can do is around 31 dB attenuation, like these ones.

31 dB is a lot quieter, but there are always noises to hear that are self-generated, such as blood flow.
posted by scruss at 5:49 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]

Ear plugs plus over-the-ear protection is a pretty solid combination, but not the most comfortable to wear hours on end.
posted by jedicus at 5:59 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]

My younger kid wore headphones for a couple of years at school due to excessive noise. I bought cheap ones because they'd only last a few months (kids are rough). We talked about how absolute silence is impossible, but could we deal with muffled sounds. That worked for her.
posted by heathrowga at 6:22 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Put the 3M ear protectors over a pair of cheap in-ear headphones playing air conditioner white noise from an mp3 playing device.

This blocks 100% of outside sound, in my experience. Earplugs plus ear protectors will muffle the sounds of people speaking, but not block them entirely.

You can make it more discreet by trailing the cable down the shirt, or by springing for wireless earphones. The audio quality doesn't enter into it, so cheaper should be fine.
posted by rollick at 7:33 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Spending any amount of money on noise-cancelling headphones is not worth it in this case. They are not going to provide the noise attenuation of good ear protection mufflers. They can help with constant-noise things (e.g. the drone of an airplane engine), but don't work well with quickly-changing sounds (e.g. a school classroom).
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:56 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]

I'm an audiologist and have seen many children with sensory issues, particularly sound sensitivity.

I will make some earplug recommendations, but first I want to emphasize two things:

1) earplugs often make sound sensitivity (hyperacusis/misophonia) worse, and there can be increasing reliance on hearing protection for these individuals with use. The auditory system, at least at the higher levels, is fairly adaptive and can get very used to silence which increases the severity of hyperacusis over time. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with small bouts of use for specific situations, but it is something you need to consider and take a nuanced approach to.

2) Be careful with earplug use at school. For children, almost as much learning occurs through incidental learning as it does through direct instruction. Earplugs at school reduces access to incidental learning which can have relatively large effects on vocabulary and other educational outcomes.

As said upthread, complete silence is impossible. Active noise canceling headphones are essentially equivalent to passive headphones for everything but steady-state noise. Foam or silicone earplugs tend to have the highest noise reduction, but only when inserted properly (deeply, flush with the ear canal). You could consider custom in-ear earplugs from an audiologist, which have a more flat reduction (as opposed to greater reduction of high, rather than low, frequencies, as foam earplugs have). They are comfortable and easier to insert than foam plugs.

Otherwise, your option is over-the-ear ear muffs. You will not really do better than the standard 3M ones.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:35 AM on August 7 [19 favorites]

Here are my thoughts (I have pretty bad misophonia and have tried a lot of headphone/ear plug/etc solutions):

I agree with the comments that complete silence is not really possible, or is only possible in an environment without unpredictable or high pitched sounds. Certain sounds, like the clink of a fork on a plate, will cut through the noise cancelled silence.

I'm not sure if white noise is an option for your daughter. For me it's actually better than silence, but that obviously may not be the case for her (and some people really dislike white noise). If it is an option though, rollick's solution of earbuds playing under hear protector earmuffs does work, but for me anyway, it hurts after an hour or two. My upgrade to this is listening to white noise through Bose over the ear headphones, with foam ear plugs under the headphones as needed depending on sounds in the environment.

I've tried various cheaper brands and Bose is by far my favorite, because they have the combination of fitting tightly enough to block sounds better and being much more comfortable for long periods of use than other headphones I've tried.

I prefer the plain over the ear headphones to the noise cancelling ones since they are cheaper and the sounds that the noise cancelling ones are particularly good for like airplane noise aren't usually ones that bother me anyway.

I take Lutoslawski's points about incidental learning and about earplugs, etc. potentially making some types of sound sensitivity worse and am not disputing those points. But re: misophonia specifically: it's a complex neurological and psychological condition that is not yet very well understood. There is certainly no scientific consensus that allowing children to avoid trigger sounds with headphones or ear plugs makes the condition worse. In fact a key feature of misophonia is so-called "trigger expansion" - when people are exposed to trigger sounds and cannot escape them (by leaving the situation or by blocking them), the brain sometimes reacts by pulling in other sounds or even visual cues and making them problems too. (For example, I cannot stand to watch someone chew gum, even if I can't hear it at all. This wasn't the case when I was younger, there was a time when it was only the sound that would have bothered me.)

(Note: this particular ask metafilter question isn't about misophonia specifically, and 7 is actually a bit young relative to the typical age of onset, so I'm mentioning the above more in case anyone in the future dealing with misophonia comes across this question.)
posted by soundscreen at 10:35 AM on August 7

I agree with Lutoslawski. While I am one of those hyper sound sensitive individuals, I am old enough that hyperacusis hadn't been described yet. At some point we all have to learn to live with the noise in our world. I can attest to how tiring and painful sensory sensitivity is day in and day out and I am grateful for times when I can mute sensations. I am also acutely aware that hearing isn't just in our ears. Sounds result from air movement and I feel them as well as hear them.

I do want to offer a caution about noise cancelling. Before you invest in any noise-cancelling headphones, make sure and have your daughter test them to ensure they don't actually make things worse. I wore the Bose noise cancelling headphones when I flew every week for business. Active noise cancelling works by generating sound waves to counteract the frequencies they are reducing. While this reduces noise like that of a jet engine, for me it has a sound pressure of its own and I find it uncomfortable and tiring even if it is imperceptible to my conscious self. It was always a relief to take them off. I was thrilled to find in-ear noise-blocking headphones that don't have that effect on me.
posted by Altomentis at 11:01 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]

thank you for introducing the words I need to bring this up with her paediatrician! She has a deaf friend and has been expressing outright envy that she can turn off her hearing aids and not hear anything and asking if I can get something like that, which I figure meant more than just simple irritation at noise. Plus wearing the headphones for hours. I'll be taking her to a headphone shop to physically try on different sets before then to see if we can get a set. Earplugs have been a no-go because of ear infections and sensitivity, but we can try again I guess.

Why hasn't someone invented something that just volume controls the world?? Like, you don't need to have podcasts, you just want to be able to turn down the damn volume 90% of the time.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:11 PM on August 8

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