autism and mental health
Hearing Voices in ASD
Hearing voices is incredibly common. Approximately 5% of the population report hearing voices at some point in their lives.
Hearing voices falls under the umbrella of ‘auditory hallucinations’ – this is where the person hears voice(s) or other noises that no one else can hear.
Sometimes hearing voices is the brain’s way of trying to manage something difficult.
Hearing voices may therefore be part of a mental health problem such as psychosis (for more info please see https://www.camhsnorthderbyshire.nhs.uk/psychosis/) , which needs to be assessed carefully by a mental health professional.
Often, when part of a wider mental health problem, young people will report feeling (or appear) distressed by the voices they are hearing.
Hearing voices in ASD
It is important to note that there can also be other reasons linked to ASD as to why a young person might appear to hear voices:
Many young people with autism can hear, feel and smell more acutely than other people (sensory sensitivity), and so may report hearing things that others around them cannot.
They may express their own thoughts in an unusual or concrete way, or can struggle to give them context so that they can be mistaken for hearing voices (e.g. they may say “my brain told me to do it”).
Some young people struggle to understand their internal thinking or conversations we have within our own heads and may describe these as being ‘voices’.
Young people with ASD can describe things very vividly using their imagination, thoughts or past events.
Some young people with ASD can struggle to separate out fantasy from reality and can describe events that have happened on TV/computer games as though they were real.
Many individuals with ASD self talk as a calming strategy when feeling anxious or falling to sleep.
For some young people, the way they can present when in the midst of an emotion “meltdown” can be mistaken for them experiencing hallucinations.
This can lead people to believe they are hearing voices.
When to seek help
If your young person is reporting hearing voices or you suspect that they are, please seek support from your GP, who will be able to refer you onto appropriate services for further assessment and advice.
Further support, advice and self-help
Young Minds gives free, relevant, practical information about a range of mental health issues in children and young people. It has information about feelings and symptoms, conditions and looking after yourself. It also has some specific information about self-harm and what to do about self-harm.
National Autistic Society provides free information and advice about autism. It has easy to read pages appropriate for young people and provides clear guidance for families on how to manage some of the challenges present in autism.
Autistica gives information about autism and related conditions. They are involved in ongoing research projects to help those with autism and their families to lead long, healthy and happy lives.