How music helps children with hearing loss


New research from Macquarie University has found that singing, dancing and playing musical instruments have many benefits for children with hearing loss.

Imagine yourself in the courtyard of an elementary school, surrounded by the chatter, screams and laughter of children. The bell rings, there’s a stampede of footsteps on the asphalt, and in the midst of that chaos, you knock out all the annoying sounds and manage to hear your friend talking to you. You have just successfully heard a “speech in noise”.

Happy place: Music has great therapeutic potential and can improve communication skills.

But children with hearing loss have a very different experience from this typical scenario. Even with cochlear implants or hearing aids, they still face significant challenges, such as hearing sounds in a noisy environment like the school playground.

They tend to do very well in quiet environments, but have difficulty hearing well when there is noise. They may be unable to hear the teacher in a noisy classroom or to interact well with their peers in the playground.

But what if I told you that music could help that?

Music has great therapeutic potential, and music-based therapy is associated with improved communication skills.

Interest in understanding the importance of music in the deaf community has deep historical roots, even before the field of audiology, with the earliest formal studies dating back to 1848.

Musical training can be particularly useful for hearing because it requires students to be receptive to rapid and detailed changes in sound.

Music has great therapeutic potential, and music-based therapy is associated with improved communication skills. Music therapy is an engaging, multisensory training method that offers broader benefits that specifically target the perception of “speech in noise”.

The program improves perception

With a team of supervisors from Macquarie University, I set up a music therapy program for elementary-age children who used either hearing aids or cochlear implants. During the 12-week program, 14 children were offered weekly in-person sessions and an app they could use at home to guide them through various musical activities such as singing, dancing, playing instruments and creating their own. own pieces of music.

Instrumental: During the 12 week program, 14 children had face-to-face sessions as well as an app to guide them around the house.

The tasks performed by children sometimes involved multiple senses, but sometimes relied entirely on hearing. For example, they listened to instruments hidden in bags and had to identify the instrument based solely on sound. This uses their ability to recognize the character or timbre of a particular sound.

The children showed significant improvements in various aspects of their sound perception, such as their ability to identify if a sentence was a question or a statement based on rhythm, linguistic accent patterns and tone. The children had an average improvement of 14 percent in their test scores.

Their instrument identification success also increased by 8 percent, indicating an improvement in their timbre perception. Nevertheless, a gap remained in their performance levels compared to children with typical hearing.

Most importantly, after the 12 week program, children with hearing loss heard speech better in noise. On average, the lowest hearing level where children could still perceive speech decreased by 1.1 dB, which is a significant drop.

Impact on quality of life

These results were measured using standardized tests and clinical assessments, such as the Clinical Assessment of Music Perception Test, Macquarie Battery of Emotional Prosody, and Australian Sentence Test in Noise. The full results of this recent study can be found in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

All the benefits: Research has found that music therapy can improve the perception of rhythm, stress, and tone of language in hearing-impaired children, as well as help with emotional regulation.

We also saw improvements in social, mental and emotional behaviors, as well as quality of life benefits for the children who participated. We found that the children had less anxiety, depression, bad mood and energy after participating than before the program; and it also helped them regulate their emotions and improve both their communication skills and their relationships with peers. These results were measured using quantitative questionnaires.

Speech-in-noise hearing is the number one challenge that researchers in the field are trying to improve in hearing-impaired children. The quality of speech and the perception of voice has a huge impact on how hearing impaired people interact with the auditory world, and these results give cause for optimism.

In collaboration with Cochlear Limited, we have contributed to the development of applications such as ‘Bring Back the Beat’, which gives people with cochlear implants the opportunity to get involved in music, and ‘CoPilot’, a platform online rehabilitation with music modules to launch. Next year.

Another advancement in this space includes “Singwell,” a research project that advocates the benefits of group singing for people with communication disabilities. Researchers from around the world have come together to support this cause, including Professor William Forde Thompson of Macquarie University.

This research supports the idea that music therapy has many benefits for children with hearing loss. This can improve their perception of rhythm, stress, and tone in speech, as well as help with emotional regulation. More importantly, their improved listening skills mean they can more easily hear their friends in this noisy playground.

Dr Chi Yhun Lo is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at Macquarie University and recently received a Fresh Science Early Career Researcher Award for NSW.

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