Considering and meeting the sensory needs of autistic people in housing

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This project was commissioned in 2020 from NDTI by the Care and Health Improvement programme and co-produced with a group of people with lived experience.

Many neurotypical people can ‘block out’ noise, but some autistic people struggle to do this and hear every sound, including things that might not be audible to others such as outside noises like cars and aeroplanes.

Autistic people may also be able to hear sounds from inside the building – such as voices or noises from other rooms, or water in pipes and electricity in the walls. A decibel meter can be useful to support this work (now available as a phone app for those in need).

Many autistic people process one thing at a time and can’t ‘tune out’ inputs. Every noise will continue to be heard, will be a distraction and will take ‘bandwidth’.

Challenging sensory stimuli and suggested alternatives

Hard floors and walls, adds to noise (eg footsteps) and creates echo

Soft furnishings (carpets, curtains, furniture) absorb noise; acoustic vinyl is often a better option than laminate where carpet isn’t appropriate; sound absorbing panels could also be considered

Curved and angled walls and ceilings – affects how sound moves in the space and can be disorientating for those with proprioceptive issues

Straight walls and ‘flat’ ceilings; soft furnishings and sound absorbing panels can reduce the impact of this where change is not possible

High ceilings

Where these are present soft furnishings and sound absorbing panels can help.

Electrical buzzing

Can items be turned off or moved?

Forced air, heating or air conditioning humming

Is it possible to control this? Can it be turned off? Can it be serviced to reduce the noise?

Heating noises

Is it possible to control this? Servicing may reduce the noise volume.

Fan heaters or fan assisted radiators

Swap for panel radiators or underfloor heating. Large low temperature radiators may be safer than smaller higher temperature alternatives.

Water pipes including from toilets, appliances and pipes

Are they noisy in all areas or are there quieter spaces? Is it constant? Can it be controlled or managed? Limit use of spaces where it is particularly noisy.

Washing machine and clothes dryer

Consider agreeing timings of use. Some people find this sound comforting and helpful to self-regulate.

Dishwasher and other appliances

Consider position of this and timings of use.

Cooking noises, including fan

May be more manageable if the person is involved and controlling this. Is it possible to close doors between spaces? Limit use if noise is more challenging than smells.

Bathroom extractor fan

Connect to a separate switch so it doesn’t automatically come on when the light is turned on.

Hot water cylinders from a header tank

Mains pressure hot water is quieter


Consider timings of use. Agree times and stick to this.

Ticking clocks

Replace with clocks that don’t tick.

Noise from staff if present (including if waking night, sleep in, supporting, office space)

Do staff need to be in the person’s space? Could assistive technology be used to support from a distance? Ensure they are aware of and minimise noise including TV, radio, typing, voices, keys jangling, radio transmitter chatter, footsteps – particularly at night.

Other residents or neighbours

This is often unpredictable, can’t be controlled and can cause distress. Attached or shared properties won’t be suitable for everyone.

Wall and ceiling angles

Flat and straight walls are often preferred. Good lighting, sound absorbing panels and carpet can all help reduce the echo and improve orientation.

Fire and other alarms (including testing)

Make the person aware that fire alarms is expected. Some people find noise less distressing if they can control when it goes off – can they run the test?

Alarms from electrical appliances eg dishwasher, washing machine

Turn off where safe to do so

Noise of doors opening and closing (including kitchen cupboards)

Use of Velcro pads, door silencers, or kitchen cabinet door buffers, door arms, turn off electronic sensors that beep.

Doorbell or knocking

A choice can be helpful. Clear instruction can direct people towards the resident’s preference. A video bell is helpful for some people.

Metal curtain rails

Wooden curtain rails are quieter.