Hearing Assistive Technology (HATS) for Children
Are there special considerations for children?
Yes! It is well documented that for children, typical language development, speech development, social skills, and academic achievement depend on the ability to hear. HATS maximize children’s hearing and learning capabilities.
FM systems, because of their flexibility, mobility, and sturdiness, are among the most common HATS used with children. FM systems have wide application in educational settings. This is because of the long-recognized benefits that this technology provides in noisy and reverberant child care, preschool, and classroom environments.
Think of where and how your child spends the day. It is then easy to realize how HATS provide benefit in noisy play areas or in acoustically poor classrooms.
Studies have shown that FM systems have the best results when implementation is made early in the amplification-fitting or cochlear implant process. In fact, as a matter of routine, audiologists fitting hearing aids for children make sure the aids are prescribed with:
- "T" (telecoil/telephone) switches
- "M/T" (microphone/telecoil) combination switches
- Direct audio input (DAI) capability that allows connection with assistive listening systems
If you have a child who needs a hearing aid, be sure the device comes with the above features.
What do FM systems do for children in schools?
- They allow the child to hear the teacher’s voice at an appropriate and constant intensity level. The sound level is consistent regardless of the distance between the child and the teacher.
- They allow the teacher’s voice to be heard more prominently than background noise, such as toys, papers, chairs scraping, whispering, pencils being sharpened, and feet shuffling. This is true even when the background noise is closer to the child than the teacher’s voice. This is referred to as a good signal-to-noise ratio (S/N ratio).
- They allow for self-monitoring of the child’s own voice through the conventional hearing aid microphone.
- They allow for the conventional hearing aid microphone to be turned off. This enables the child to concentrate only on the teacher.
Are there other HATS used in schools?
Yes. Children with sensorineural hearing loss receive the most benefit from personal FM systems. However, there are other systems, called sound-field systems, that assist listening for all children in the class. Using this technology, the teacher speaks into a microphone transmitter. The teacher’s voice is projected through speakers mounted around the classroom. This arrangement assists in overcoming the problems of distance. However, these systems should not be used in classrooms that have heavy reverberations. For any sound-field system to work effectively, good classroom acoustics are essential.
Sound-field systems have been found to benefit typically hearing children and children with hearing loss, as well as those with other auditory and learning problems. Sound-field systems may help those with:
- Minimal hearing loss
- Conductive hearing loss
- Fluctuating hearing loss associated with otitis media
- Unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in one ear)
- Central auditory processing disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Developmental delays
- Attention deficits
- Language delays
- Articulation disorders
These systems are also helpful for those learning English as a second language.
Who is qualified to determine if my child needs HATS?
The ability to select, evaluate, fit, and dispense FM systems should be managed by a certified audiologist. Many school districts employ certified audiologists who specialize in educational-setting issues. Their expertise includes the evaluation, selection, procurement, and monitoring of HATS used in schools by children. Furthermore, audiologists guide and instruct teachers, speech-language pathologists, and students in making the best use of HATS.
Is there legislation that supports the provision of HATS to children?
Increased availability and usage of FM systems are due in large measure to legislation that mandates access to technology for persons with hearing and other communication disabilities: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Under IDEA, consideration of assistive technology for any child with a disability must take place as part of the development of the individualized education program. Each act in some way deals with the issue of access to instruction. Of course, for the child with hearing loss, "access" means being able to hear instruction!