Smart Headsets for Children with ASD

Hong Kong-developed smart headsets improve noise sensitivities for children with autism.

smart headset

Share this article

Hypersensitivity to sound is a prevalent challenge for individuals on the spectrum. These audio sensitivities can significantly impact their ability to focus, elevate anxiety levels, and disrupt daily activities. For children, this can intrude upon the classroom experience, impeding their learning and social interactions.

According to Dr. Yat Sze Choy from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the visionary behind the creation of "Smart Headsets" (working name) for the ASD community, children on the spectrum perceive sound differently from their neurotypical peers.

"With more children being diagnosed on the spectrum these days, it's important to find solutions that help address the issues they face, such as audio sensitivities," explains Dr. Choy. 

After four years of dedicated development, Dr. Choy and her team, including Mr. Kwong Tak Chun from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Prof. Che Hin Chan, Chetwyn from The Education University of Hong Kong, and Dr. Wai Yin Mung, Steve, from Innovation Technology Company Limited, have developed headsets that adapt in real-time to the auditory needs of the user.

Research utilizing psychoacoustics and electroencephalography (EEG) analysis has illuminated their unique auditory profiles. Dr. Choy’s findings reveal that sounds benign to neurotypical individuals can be profoundly disruptive for those with ASD. Low-frequency noises, such as the hum of air conditioning units, the rumble of traffic and trains, and the drone of household appliances like refrigerators, often present significant challenges.

Challenges with traditional noise-cancelling headphones

Traditional noise-cancelling headphones provide an overall reduction of noise, creating a quieter environment. However, this approach may not benefit individuals with ASD, who require personalized settings to address their unique auditory sensitivities effectively. 

Customizing noise reduction to target specific frequencies that cause discomfort is essential for providing genuine relief. Existing solutions fall short because they lack the capability to adapt to the subjective auditory perceptions of each individual with ASD.

How the Smart Headsets work

“Understanding and addressing these sensory challenges is crucial for improving their quality of life. This is where our revolutionary smart headset featuring adaptive noise filters comes into play,” explains Dr. Choy.

This technology functions through several key features. At its core, the system constructs a personalized hearing profile for each child, derived from comprehensive psychoacoustic and EEG analysis. This profile pinpoints the specific frequencies most likely to cause discomfort. The smart headset then leverages this profile to dynamically adjust its noise-filtering settings, selectively suppressing the distressing frequencies while permitting other sounds to pass through. This ensures the child remains aware of their surroundings without being overwhelmed by noise.

Benefits of the Smart Headset for Children with ASD

The benefits of the Smart Headsets are extensive. By effectively managing unpleasant noises, the headset significantly reduces the stress and anxiety that children with ASD often encounter in noisy environments. This creates a more comfortable auditory setting, enabling children to focus better on their activities, whether it be learning in a classroom, playing, or participating in therapy sessions. Additionally, by reducing sensory overload, the headset helps children engage more comfortably in social situations, thereby enhancing their ability to interact with peers and adults. With personalized auditory support, children can navigate various settings with greater confidence, fostering increased independence.

How to access these complimentary headsets

Dr. Choy and her team are currently expanding the testing phase of the headset to refine this groundbreaking innovation. They are meticulously monitoring the responses of children and youth using the headsets and are delighted to offer complimentary units to families willing to participate in the study.

Families can sign up for testing either at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) lab or at a designated center for a rapid assessment. The team aims to evaluate the headset's effectiveness over a three-week period. 

Interested families can contact us at hello@optism.co