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Creating a good listening environment

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You already know how important it is to fill your child’s life with language. You want your child with UHL to clearly hear all the songs you sing, the stories you share and the snippets of conversations that make up your family life. As hearing parents, the things we take for granted are not always easy for a child with UHL. But you can take some steps to create an environment at home that will make it easier for your child to listen. The three main barriers to understanding speech for anyone with a hearing loss are:

  1. Distance from the sound
  2. Background noise
  3. Reverberation
Distance from the sound

Loudness and pitch of sound, as well as the distance from the sound, are all important in our ability to hear. Children with a hearing loss will have a reduced hearing range.  Your child may have difficulty understanding what you are saying when you are talking from a distance. Fortunately, much of our communication with young babies is done at close range – they are usually only an arms length away as we cuddle, play and attend to their needs. You do need to be aware of the impact of distance on your growing child’s listening ability.  When you call from the next room for your child to put away the toys and they do not do it, they may not have heard your request. This is one of the dilemmas of being the parent of a child with a hearing loss – have they not done it because they couldn’t hear properly or are they being disobedient?

Background noise

We all know the experience of trying to make out what someone is saying to us in a bar or a rock concert. We know the person is talking to us and we can probably catch a few words and get the gist of the conversation. We probably know something about the topic and can use our knowledge and experience to understand what is being said. And we are hearing with two ears.

Background noise is a problem for all children and anyone with a hearing loss. Young children are unable to “predict from context.” They have limited vocabulary and experience and can’t fill in the missing pieces as adults can. For children with normal hearing, their ability to understand sentences in noisy environments does improve through the early childhood years. They reach adult levels of speech understanding in noise in their teens. Children and adults with a hearing loss will always find background noise challenging.

What can you do?
Homes with young children are noisy places. It is part of the fun of having children! But there are times when limiting the background noise can make it a lot easier for your child with UHL to learn and understand what is being said.

  • Read to your child in a quiet environment and make sure their hearing ear is closest to you.
  • Turn off the TV/radio/music at mealtimes. Sit at the table together and chat.
  • Vacuum cleaners, washing machines and lawn mowers all make it very difficult for your child to understand what you are saying to them. Be aware of this if you are giving them instructions or warning them about something.

Families spend a lot of time in the car and these can also be difficult listening environments for the child with UHL.

  • If you are chatting to your kids in the car, turn off the radio and wind up the windows. Your child with UHL should be sitting with their ear with the hearing loss closest to the window.
  • If you are listening to music or a talking book, wind up the windows.

Reverberation is the persistence of sound in a room after the original sound has stopped – like an echo.  A room with ‘good acoustics’ is designed to reduce reverberation and makes it easier for understanding speech. Reverberation time depends mainly on the size of a room or space and the surface materials used in the room. An empty bedroom with wooden floors has a longer reverberation time than when the room has carpet, furniture and curtains.

What can you do at home?
Reverberation is usually more of a problem for children in the classroom than at home. However, contemporary homes with open plan living, timber floors and blinds on the windows are not the easiest listening environments for anyone with a hearing loss. Soft furnishings that absorb sound will reduce reverberation and make listening and understanding easier at home.

  • Carpets are better than hard floors
  • Curtains are better than bare windows or blinds

In summary
Small things can make a difference in improving the listening environment for your child at home. Reducing noise and reverberation will help your child to listen and understand speech and participate fully in your family’s life.





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