Hearing : a key element of academic success

September 26, 2012 by Martin Fortin
At school, most lessons are taught verbally, placing primary demand on the sense of hearing. It is therefore very important to ensure that the learning environment is conducive to good listening and that hearing acuity is optimal in order to facilitate academic success.

Several factors can contribute to communication breakdown, including the acoustic environment and the student’s hearing sensitivity. Classroom noise is a significant environmental obstacle to learning. There are a variety of solutions available to reduce classroom noise, including the use of felt pads or tennis balls placed on the feet of chairs or desks in order to reduce noise from friction. Good management of student behaviour is also beneficial. Indeed, using a scale or a visual light system to indicate acceptable and unacceptable noise levels in a classroom can be very useful. When noise levels become too high, students will see the noise indicator and can adjust their behaviour accordingly.*

A child’s hearing acuity is also of fundamental importance in the learning process. Hearing problems fall into two main types: peripheral hearing problems (inability to hear some or all sound), and central auditory procession problems (difficulty understanding auditory information such as speech). Peripheral hearing difficulties may be temporary (short term, as in the case of ear infections), or they may be permanent. Central auditory processing difficulties can also be temporary, but are more often permanent. When temporary, these problems are usually present for a long period of time as the auditory system doesn’t finishing maturing until the age of 12.

Hearing difficulties, whether of acuity or of sound processing, give rise to similar symptoms: the child has difficulty understanding speech when background noise is present, the child doesn’t respond to his or her name, the child seems to be in his own world, the child often asks people to repeat what they’ve said, or turns up the volume on the television; the child seems to forget instructions, etc. These behaviours seem to be more pronounced when the child is not looking directly at us.

In the presence of these symptoms, it is important to arrange a hearing assessment. The first step consists of testing the peripheral hearing acuity system (audiogram). If a permanent hearing loss is discovered, the next steps are an examination by an ear-nose-throat physician and a hearing aid recommendation. If, however, hearing is found to be within the normal range, an auditory processing assessment may be recommended.

Other examinations may also be necessary if the behaviours described above are interfering with academic performance. For example, thorough evaluations of language, of learning ability, and/or of the ability to pay attention may be needed. Depending upon the results of such investigations, various solutions will be offered: preferential classroom seating, use of an FM system, use of a booth during individual class work or during exams, and use of various communication strategies. Follow-up auditory training may also be warranted.

If you have noticed some of these signs in your child, don’t hesitate to discuss them with your audiologist. Early intervention in children who have hearing difficulties is a guarantee of better success at school.

Auditory screening questionnaire for school-age children, to be completed by the parent.
* www.noisemeters.ca/product/soundear/default.asp