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How to Navigate Cicada Season with Sensory Sensitivities: Tips and Tricks

Chicago Non-Profit Anticipates Bothersome Sights and Sounds of Cicadas

 

PRESS RELEASE | Northbrook, IL, April 30, 2024

By mid-May, trillions of inch-long cicadas are expected to emerge in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the United States. While harmless, they will blanket the trees and ground, producing a loud buzzing noise. The sounds, which can be equivalent to a lawn mower or a motorcycle, will be especially frustrating for those with autism spectrum disorder.  Northbrook, IL-based Keshet (Hebrew for “rainbow”), an internationally known non-profit serving children and adults with disabilities, offers strategies for those with autism, anxiety, and sensory processing disorders ahead of the auditory onslaught.

 

According to a recently published essay in Psychiatric News and the Yale School of Public Health, almost 5.5 million Americans who have autism spectrum disorder experience sensory sensitivities and may encounter negative effects from the high-pitched buzzing associated with cicadas.  

 

“We expect the sights and sounds of these cicadas to be triggering, but previewing what’s going to happen and thinking ahead should alleviate some anxiety,” said Stephanie Darnell, MA, CTRS, CAS certified recreation therapist and autism specialist at Keshet. 


Some thoughts to keep in mind before these insect interlopers appear: 


Cicadas can be fun and exciting

  • Start a conversation now about when and why the cicadas will be out this year. 

  • Look together at a calendar and create a buzz.


Cicadas are harmless

  • Reassure the child/adult that cicadas are harmless and do not sting or bite. 

  • Use online photos to show what they look like.

  • Role-play how to brush one off if it lands on the child/adult.


Cicadas are loud

  • Be honest about the noise. 

  • Since loud noises can prompt unexpected responses, try to compare the sound to something familiar. 

  • Use technology to your advantage. Find a recording of cicadas to play on your computer or phone. 

  • Test out noise-canceling headphones to determine which devices are most effective. 

  • Anticipate spending more time inside.

  • It is possible that some kids might like the repetitive sound and find it soothing.


Proper shoes will protect feet from the cicadas on the ground

  • Since cicada shells may litter the ground, we recommend wearing gym shoes, not sandals. 

  • The shells will create a secondary crunching feel and sound that could be annoying.


A social story can help

  • A social story is a narrative that uses pictures and words to help people with autism anticipate certain problems and understand how to deal with them. (“Look how big its eyes are. I wonder what it can see…”)


Keshet is a community-based, non-profit organization that enhances independence, optimizes personal potential, and supports communal inclusion for kids, teens, and adults with disabilities.

For more information, please contact Keshet at www.keshet.org

 

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