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Background noise and students with Auditory Processing Disorder

Posted by Peter Barnes on July 25, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Devon_BarnesMany people find it hard to hear what someone else is saying when there is a lot of background noise. But if you have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), background noise can be even more of a problem.

LearnFast asked Devon Barnes, speech pathologist and Auditory Processing Disorder specialist how explain how background noise impacts people with this difficulty.

Key points from the interview included:

  • Students with APD are disadvantaged in noisy classrooms
  • Background noise interferes with learning
  • Reducing noise in classrooms will benefit all students

Watch the video interview: 




Prefer to read the video transcript?   Here it is.

Auditory Processing Disorder – Background Noise

Interviewer: So, Devon, background noise. Now this is a very tricky subject because that's basically what a classroom is all about. There's just noise, and there's more noise than there is quiet. I think that would probably be a fairly safe guess. How important is it for classrooms to be quiet, or at least for us to try and regulate the noise?

Devon Barnes: Particularly for our students with auditory processing disorder, it's absolutely crucial that there is quiet for those times when they need to be focusing on the teacher's voice.

Interviewer: And I suppose there's a natural benefit there as well for everybody if the classroom is quiet. I guess some people might argue that there are multiple learning strategies, and some people just need to be active and noisy all the time.

But I guess the importance of, at least, a regulated environment, particularly, for auditory processing disorder sufferers. We really need to understand that there is a close link with learning. Can you elaborate on that?

Devon Barnes: Yes, well I think most children benefit actually from a quiet classroom. At those critical times when the teacher is actually giving an instruction or explaining something, explaining how to do a maths problem. You need those children to be listening and attending with no background noise really. It's not only your students with auditory processing that benefit from the absence of background noise. But I think all of the students benefit from that. So having a classroom where we reduce the ambient noise benefits all of the children.

Interviewer: So what about sports and practical subjects, things like that? What strategies could we use?

Devon Barnes: That becomes a bit tricky for our student with auditory processing disorder because he may not be able to hear the coach's instruction when there's lots of other shouting. And I think that just becomes hard for him, and that's something he has to learn to live with. I think once we identify the problem we can actually have our student take ownership of that problem.

Interviewer: Yes.

Devon Barnes: Then we can say, "Well, look. We know you've got this problem when you're playing in sports. You're just going to have to be more aware. You might not get the coach's instruction, but you've got to find some strategies around that."

Interviewer: So is it a case where we could look at that a little bit similar to, say a student who really wants to play soccer but they suffer from asthma, and they need to learn to manage that? Because we know now that people can actually play sports if they are asthma sufferers.

Devon Barnes: Yes, I think it's very similar to that.

Interviewer: Right.

Devon Barnes: But in a classroom situation where it is crucial for learning, and if we know that that background noise is really going to interfere with learning, that's the situation where we've really got to do something about that background noise. As I said before, not only for the benefit of our student with auditory processing, but for all the students, and also for the teacher, because then also the teacher doesn't have to shout.

Interviewer: Yes. So let me just get a little bit philosophical here now. Do you think just maybe that with the busyness of time, we have just lost a little bit of the connection between the importance of noise and hearing and the concept of learning? Have we lost that a bit?

Devon Barnes: I think we have. I think our society's so busy. We're having images and sound produced to us all the time. You go into a store and there's music. Workout at the gym and there's this thumping music. I think we've lost the ability to be quiet and to enjoy silence, and to reflect and to go within. I'm being a bit philosophical here myself, but as a culture we've lost that ability to be quiet and to reflect and to enjoy silence. Because silence, as they say, silence is golden.

Interviewer: Yes.

Devon Barnes: So I think our students, because they're always having stimuli imposed upon them, television, video games, they've lost that ability just to be quiet. And so they're not comfortable with silence.

Interviewer: Yes.

Devon Barnes: We've almost got to relearn to enjoy silence and what we can do with that silence. So I'm not suggesting in the classroom we want to be silent, but I'm suggesting that we revisit the concept of not constantly being stimulated with noise, because it's not really good for our brains.

Interviewer: Maybe it's a case where teachers aren't comfortable with the silence, and they just feel that they have to keep talking. And if there is no noise, then I'll just fill it in with noise by talking. And by doing so not actually realise that they're not allowing that situation of silence to happen where, perhaps, learning could be taking place.

Devon Barnes: Absolutely. I think that's a great comment that the teacher needs to be silent at times so students can do their own thinking and their own working out in their head what needs to be done, even without the teacher's voice.

Interviewer: Let's end this with some silence. Devon, thank you.

Devon Barnes: My pleasure.

Free eBook - What is Auditory Processing Disorder?

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Topics: Auditory Processing Disorder

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