The appearance of cicadas could affect people on the autism spectrum

TOAs more than a billion cicadas emerge from underground this month, experts warn that people on the autism spectrum or who are sensitive to sound may find the insects’ noise overwhelming.

The large co-appearance of 13- and 17-year-old brood cicadas this spring is the first of its kind in more than 200 years. Emergence has already begun in some regions and cicadas will be visible in several states, including Illinois, Iowa, Georgia and Tennessee. The appearance is expected to last until June.

Read more: An animated guide to the rare cicada co-emergence of 2024

Once they emerge, male cicadas sing a mating call to attract female cicadas. Due to the large presence of insects, the continuous, high-pitched buzzing can be loud; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there were reports of noise levels reaching between 90 and 100 decibels in 2021. In April, cicadas were so loud in one South Carolina county that residents called to the sheriff’s office to ask. why they heard sirens or a loud roar, the Associated Press reported.

Cicada noise does not cause hearing loss, according to the CDC. But researchers warn that sound can be overwhelming for the nearly 5.5 million people in the United States who have autism spectrum disorder and are sensitive to sound.

“Some children on the spectrum may have difficulty with loud or unexpected noises, such as automatically flushing toilets, fireworks around the Fourth of July, or the appearance of large numbers of cicadas,” said Dr. Rachel Follmer, assistant professor. of behavioral development pediatrics. of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a news release. ‚ÄúSometimes when they are prepared for something to be loud, they can tolerate the sound better. It’s not just that the sound is loud but it happens unexpectedly.”

Follmer, who is also a physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, offered several steps parents can take to prepare their children, who may be more sensitive to cicada noise. Those steps might include watching YouTube videos or listening to audio clips with children to familiarize them with the sounds and developing a plan for what to do if the sound is overwhelming, such as having headphones or earplugs available. Parents could also show their children photographs of cicadas to explain what they are and why they are emerging.

Follmer suggested using social stories, which are narratives that guide children through a situation, to help them prepare.

“Because some children on the spectrum have communication difficulties, they may not be able to explain how they feel, so it is helpful to provide them with tools ahead of time that can help them communicate,” Follmer said in the news release.

Follmer added that in general, children, whether they are on the spectrum or not, can be sensitive to sound, so he encouraged all parents to prepare their children for the noise associated with the appearance of cicadas.

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