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Do you hear what I hear?

on March 23, 2013

Having worked in a deaf school for many years I came to appreciate the sound of silence as well as paying closer attention to sounds in my environment. First, let me make it clear, deaf schools are not silent. Very few deaf are stone deaf, there is some residual hearing though not functional in what we hearing would understand. You do become far more aware of sound vinrations while working in a deaf school because the deaf react to the slightest of vibrations in many cases that we hearing ignore because we focus on the sound.

Hard of hearing have a difficult time in a deaf school because it is so noisy. If the teacher is deaf then there is no one to calm the outside noise of scooting chairs or loud shuffling papers. Often a child would have attention problems which lead to behavior issues. I would go into the classroom to do environmental sound assessments. Again, if you are not aware of sound then you do not consciously adjust for it in regard to others. If you are hard of hearing you may not always realize it is the back ground noise is bothering you. I need to note here many deaf will turn their hearing aids off during class time because of the noise levels. Hearing aides do not filter noise like the brain does, it just ramps it up so it can be heard. Think about a busy subway with the crowd noises and the trains, amplify 25x, that is a certain headache if not a migraine moment in the making. This same effect can happen in the classroom. Can you imagine being a 7-year-old having to deal with such blasting in your head?

As hearing people we often do not consider the noise as a source of problem in the work environment. This is a false assumption. I was in the bank yesterday discussing with a consumer support  representative about my new business. A prime example time to make her aware of the need for environmental assessments to help improve productivity and employee/consumer comfort. There were fax machines, computer pings and dings, adding machines, papers shuffling, people talking, doors closing… the list was endless. Then I directed her attention to some of the employees. You could see the frustration due to the “bells and whistles” going off at sporadic times. The bank music was terrible! I mentioned a switch to a music with  more white noise tones would help solve the problem because it would drown out the other obnoxious sounds that irritate.  The look on her face was shock. She never thought about all the sounds and how they affect others. Now she was super sensitive to all noises and was picking up on the negative side effects.

Working with autistic and extreme ADHD people, this is a crippling issue. They cannot filter sounds so they get the full blunt of the chaos and bombardment of the noise plus a heighten awareness of the sound level. Another place were sound studies are conducted with great success in the outcome of those who are exposed is in the neonatal wards. Premature babies( preemies) are hooked up to all sorts of machines which whirl and beep, often chirp. A study found that this stressed the infants. Measures are taken  in many hospitals to either filter the noise with music or reduce the sound so it is not so startling to the babies. I cannot quote the source but I do remember reading a study that felt there was a link between the extreme noise in the neonatal units to learning problems and ADHD in later life for preemies.

The next time you find yourself getting tense and frustrated take a minute to do a personal sound study of what is happening in your environment. You might just need to step out to a quieter place to give your brain a rest. For every sound your brain is registering the source, the distance, if it is a potential threat, guessing how long it might continue…. all this for multiple sounds while you are trying to get your daily work completed. We are often not aware of how hard we are pushing ourselves because we are not aware of the multi-tasking going on within our minds.

Did you hear that?

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2 responses to “Do you hear what I hear?

  1. Thanks for the mention in related articles. Best wishes on your blog.

  2. midisparks says:

    great post – packed with good info. I happen to be a composer and pretty sensitive to environmental noise. i am probably considered too sensitive at work because I close the door to my office when the jammed copy machine starts beeping incessantly. i feel for the hard of hearing, and the other impacted classes you mentioned and it only helps their cause that you bring out their dilemma with respect to environmental noise.

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