Hearing is one of the most important senses we have. People without the ability to hear often say that they are the most isolated from our world. I have a hearing loss myself and I understand what it’s like to be isolated in some situations. We always talk to learners whether they have a hearing loss or not, communicating about what is happening or what is going to happen. These clues can be totally missed, or at best not fully understood by a person with either a hearing loss, poorly developed listening skills or a comprehension difficulty.
Developing hearing and listening skills is a little like visual stimulation, we need first of all to create the awareness to sound which is hearing, then we develop the ability to listen. Listening is a very complex cognitive skill. It is our ability to discriminate between sounds, understand their meaning or significance and understand how we need to respond.
We are very good at creating visual environments like multisensory rooms but how often do we consider sound environments? Or a space that helps discriminate between different sounds without other sound interruptions? Not very often!
If we are to understand sound stimulation, we must understand the process of perception.
Here is an example, taken from the Wikipedia page on perception. An example would be a telephone ringing. The ringing of the telephone is the distal stimulus. The sound stimulating a person’s auditory receptors is the proximal stimulus, and the brain’s interpretation of this as the ringing of a telephone is the percept. The different kinds of sensation such as warmth, sound, and taste are called ‘sensory modalities’.
A ‘HEAR’ space is an area where sound can be controlled, as Professor Paul Pagliano said, where the stimulus (in this case sound) can be repeated, manipulated, increased or decreased. This space is not just relevant for learners with a hearing loss. Those individuals who have autism may find it difficult to process sound but may also have a degree of hearing loss too!
H – Heard – Make sure the sound can be heard by the learner. Too many sounds or conflicting sounds will confuse the distal stimulus (the sound) and they will not be able to convert the sound heard into a proximal, so the perception of the sound will be difficult.
E – Ears – Make sure the person is in a good position to hear the sound. Some more complex learners may need assistance in positioning. Being closer is not always better! Remember, those with an ear infection, or recovering from an infection, will have more depressed hearing than usual.
A – Acoustics – Make sure the sound is clear, without echo or interruption. Too many competing sounds may reduce the learner’s ability to process or perceive the sound. Also, vary the different frequencies of sound offered; i.e. base or low-frequency sound or high-frequency sound. Make it multisensory, adding vibration by way of touching speakers or rainmakers.
R – Repeat – When learning any skill, repetition is very important. So, whatever kind of stimulation you are doing, you are only going to get results if you repeat it over and over again. So, in reality, how do we actually do this? You could create a quiet corner in a classroom with materials such as blankets, or simply get a big cardboard box, sit inside and see what the sound is like. Don’t forget that resonance or clonker boards have, for many years, been brilliant tools. Lastly, if you have a multisensory room that can be made quiet and free from interruptions, this would be an ideal place to practice hearing and listening.