What’s Auditory Fatigue?Auditory fatigue is the exhaustion you experience when you've been putting a lot of mental effort into listening and processing auditory information. Listening takes serious cognition and requires even more effort to process that information and put it to use. And the more listening experiences a child has, the longer of sentences they say. With hearing aids, all sound is amplified. I didn't realize what this was really like until I completed listening checks on hearing aids and cochlear implants. After attaching a device that allowed me to hear using the hearing amplification, it clicked what amplifying EVERYTHING was really like. I could hear the pen tapping from across the room, which I hadn't even noticed prior to listening in the hearing aid. Also, many of the voices I heard had a similar volume, making it difficult to tune in to one particular speaker. I had to put some temporary serious effort to listening to a specific sound. While tuning into to a specific sound source takes effort and practice, it can be done. It’s amazing that the brain is so good at adapting and developing to process and comprehend loads of information.
Listening EnvironmentSo while learning to listen takes practice and effort, we can make it much easier by modifying the environment so that it’s easier to hear. Minimizing white noise from appliances and air conditioning can make it significantly easier to listen. When there’s less background noise, there’s less noise to distract and interfere with listening to important stuff like the people you’re talking to or the music you like. Another way to improve a listener environment is using more rugs, curtains, and thicker carpet. These items help to absorb sound and minimize and echo. If you don’t think that carpet can reduce echoes, talk in a bare room before and after a carpet installation. HUGE difference. Flat surfaces like bare walls and wood floors are superb at creating echoes so we’ve gotta minimize them to make it easier to listen with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Everyday AdaptationsIf laying carpet down on your wood floors isn’t a current option, there are other minor things you can do to improve the listening environment of your home. Some of these things are to run the dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer at night or when your child is at school. These appliances create unavoidable white noise so try to use them at times when they won’t affect your child’s ability to listen. Or if you have to run them when your child is around, remember to at least close the door to the laundry room. And….TV, radio, or smart phone. If you have them on in the background, they are a part of the noisy distractions in your home. I personally like to have the TV on the in the background if I’m alone during the day. But this would be a horrible habit for me to have if I had a child that had cochlear implants. It’s like saying, “Here’s a constant auditory stimulus that is going to be distracting and exhausting to listen to constantly but… try to pretend it’s not there.” Yeah, not an awesome strategy for creating an optimal listening and learning environment. Another simple change is to, once again, minimizing flat and bare surfaces. Put items on your walls, hang up curtains, etc. As a bonus, these changes make your home feel cozy and inviting.
Change Your InteractionsAlso how you talk to your child is going to make it easier or harder to listen. If you’re talking from another room, it’s going to be harder to hear. If you’re mumbling and looking away, it’s going to be harder to hear. Also use your Listening and Spoken Language strategy, Acoustic Highlighting to make it easier for your child to pick up key words in a sentence. While we do need to help children with hearing amplification learn how to fully utilize auditory input (the stuff they hear), then they do need to learn how to process information in the presence of distracting background noise. For now, when your child is still developing the early auditory and language skills, set them up for success by making strategic changes to your home so that it’s easier to hear and process information and therefore reduce auditory fatigue.
What are some adaptations you’ve made or are going to make to create a better listening environment in your home?