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How to Help your Child Hear in a Noisy World - The Basics at Home and at School

By Lindsay Hutton

How to Help your Child Hear in a Noisy World - The Basics at Home and at School

The latest in assistive hearing technologies has come a long way in the past 15 years, especially in the realm of background noise reduction. When I received my first hearing aid in 1993, I would simply turn it off when faced with any setting filled with competing noises. Half the time my hearing aid would pick up on a sound I didn't need to focus on (for example, a tree branch knocking against a window or someone making noise at the back of the classroom), or would simply louden all of the sounds at once - both of which were a tad frustrating. Though Cochlear Implants (CIs) and hearing aids have improved greatly in the past decade, it can still appear as though all the sounds in a given space are handed to you in one mixed jumble.

"Background noise reduction is a little more than just carpets in a room, though those sorts of things are important as well," says Maria Melo, a speech-language pathologist and audiologist with the Toronto Public Health Infant Hearing Program. "The first step with background noise is creating good habits with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child to help them learn to focus and 'listen.'"

Here are a few tips to get you thinking about sound, noise and helping your deaf or hard-of-hearing child maintain focus.

1. The physical environment.

"We live in a very open-concept condo with very high ceilings, hardwood floors and not a lot of enclosed rooms," says Bonnie, the mother of a 12-year-old hard-of-hearing child in Hamilton, Ontario. "To help Emma get used to her CIs, we had to think about the space a little differently. We got some room dividers and carpeting - not very feng shui, but it helped partition the noise a little."

Though moving doesn't need to be an option here, it's important to think about adding elements that will help absorb and condense sound in a room for your child - especially in the areas of the home where he or she reads, plays or sleeps. Things like carpets, plants and drapery are a good start. Ask your audiologist for more information.

2. Different kinds of "noise."

We live in a loud world with lots of distraction. These days much of our lives are spent with personal and/or recreational technologies, from cell phones and personal gaming systems to televisions and iPods. Not surprisingly, some recent studies suggest that children don't have the same attention span as previous generations.

For a child who listens and hears differently, a little extra consideration may be required to teach your child to focus and concentrate. Most likely, you've spent a lot of time reading and having quality one-on-one time with your child from the start, be it reading together, cooking together, or even playing cards. The key here is to ensure that you keep up the habit!

3. In the classroom.

If your child is in a mainstream classroom, ensure your teacher knows some of the rudiments of the best practices used to communicate with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child. Not only should your child be placed where he or she can both see and hear the teacher clearly and unobstructed, your child should also be in a classroom with someone who can speak slowly, clearly, and is known for repeating ideas in a few different ways. Don't be shy to speak with your school board's special education representative to ensure this is the case. Remember: it's not only their job to ensure your child has everything they need to be successful, it's the law!

4. Know your resources.

No one expects you to know everything about keeping your child's learning curve peaking, especially with a child who listens and hears differently. The trick is to know the best people to ask for help. A good start is your local audiologist, who will not only give you tips to reduce background noise, but will help you understand how sound works. Find one here:

Finally, the best people to ask for advice are those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing themselves - check out the Canadian Association of the Deaf and the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.