Many autistics are sensitive to noise, including what non-autistics would regard as normal background noise (e.g. muzak and chatter in a mall, traffic sounds on the street, various noises at a fairground, chatter in a school cafeteria) . Being on the ASD spectrum, I personally find background chatter and muzak distressing after a few minutes. In such environments, I normally listen to slow music on my earphones, but it’s not convenient when holding a conversation at the same time.
Some autistics get round the problem by wearing these earplugs from Etymotic. Unlike normal earplugs, the ER-20 is designed to reduce volume without blocking sound completely, and maintains a high degree of fidelity, so you can hear conversations or music clearly (just not as loud). Some autistic users have found them helpful in reducing the irritation of ambient noise.
“I am autistic with severe sensory deficits. These ear plugs are perfect for this problem. Have tried sponge ear plugs off and on, but they muffle all sound. The Etymotic Ear Plugs keep the sounds sharp and audible but just turn the volume down. It was recommended by a friend who has the same problem.” [Amazon customer review]
The earplugs come in different sizes, so be sure to get the right size for your ear canal. The earplug stem sticks out of the ear, so depending on how your ear canal is angled, it may (or may not) be conspicuous. For examples, see the pics below, courtesy of Amazon. The wearer in the second pic appears to have a ear canal that’s angled down, so the earplug stem is less obvious. For detailed product specs, visit the Etymotic website.