Being a student is no easy feat. They have to juggle lessons, homework, group assignments, social activities and extracurriculars. Given the tall order to accomplish, it is no surprise that many students struggle at times. Children with hearing loss face even greater hurdles in mainstream classrooms. This is no surprise, seeing as the facilities and the medium of instruction in a typical school setting is implemented with the normal hearing population in mind. Few, if any, accommodations are allocated for the hearing impaired.
There are many factors that make the classroom a challenging environment for students with hearing loss. Poor room acoustics, distance from the teacher and background noise all contribute to unfavourable listening conditions. When classrooms are noisy, students with hearing loss struggle immensely to hear the teacher's lectures and announcements. These difficulties can lead to the child feeling left behind, disengaged from learning, and frustrated. This will result in poorer academic performance and a drop in self-esteem. In the long term, students with untreated hearing loss may give up on education altogether. Parents and caregivers play a critical role in ensuring their child gets the resources they need to overcome the challenges in life. With the right tools and education, it is not impossible for any student to succeed regardless of their hearing ability.
Hearing aids have limitations. They work sub optimally when there is a lot of background noise and when the speaker is far from the hearing aid user. This happens because noise from other students or nearby electric appliances can drown the teacher's voice making the lecture difficult to understand. Now, FM systems aim to overcome this problem. An FM system is a hearing device that delivers sound across vast distances with minimal delay or interference. The FM system consists of a microphone that the teacher can wear, and a receiver which is paired to the hearing aids worn by a student. The microphone will capture the teacher’s voice and convert it into digital information. This digital information is then sent wirelessly to the receiver which passes it along to the hearing aids. The hearing aids translates the digital information back into sound which the student can understand. This enables the student to hear the teacher's voice clearly, even if they are seated at the back of the class or if the class is noisy.
FM stands for "frequency modulation" and it actually refers to the way a signal is processed. Through FM systems, information such as the teacher's voice can be transported without interference from surrounding noise until it reaches the student's ear. According to the families that responded to one study, use of the FM systems had improved the performance of children, with greater emphasis on speech recognition in noisy environments and at increased distances from the speaker.
Children with hearing loss can use FM systems to enhance their hearing aid performance and benefit through improved academic achievement and social participation. By ameliorating their struggle to hear teachers and classmates, FM systems promote greater focus and engagement in learning. This can lead to greater self-esteem, confidence, and provide them with the same opportunities as their normal hearing peers. Effective use of FM systems will enable these children to reach their full potential academically, socially, and emotionally - leading them to become confident young adults.
If you notice your child struggling to keep up in class, even while wearing hearing aids, please consult an audiologist. They can identify key areas of improvement and provide recommendations to help your child succeed in school.
Patrick Seow, Clinical Audiologist at 20dB Hearing