I recently spoke at a conference sponsored by Phonak in Stockholm. It was a wonderful time to meet people. Fortunately, they speak English because I do not speak Swedish. I did learn a lot in spite of my limited language skills. One of the participants contacted me after the conference to ask me about using remote microphones in preschool.
The remote microphone (RM) situation in Scandinavia is very different than it is in the US. Every child gets a RM and when they are in school the class can have a pass mic on every desk so the child with hearing loss can hear every student clearly. (I was very jealous – considering how difficult I find it to get schools to approve even one pass mic.)
Remote Microphones in Preschool
Preschool is different. Children are not sitting at a desk so how do we manage in preschool? When is a RM appropriate in preschool?
If one child and one adult are in a quiet situation then I believe that no FM is needed. (My good friend, Carol Flexer, would disagree with me here – this is the one point on which we disagree.) If they are in a one-to-one situation in which there is background noise the adult should be wearing a microphone.
In a pre-school classroom, the teachers need to wear a RM microphone and use it when talking to the whole class, or when talking to a small group in which the child with a hearing loss included. It is important that they mute the RM when they are not talking to the child so that the child does not hear conversation that is not directed to him.
Children need to hear other children in addition to hearing the teacher. If it is possible, when the children are working in a small group around a table, then the RM mic might be placed on the table or worn by another child. I recommend that older children, who often do group work, have the RM placed on the table or worn by another child.
If it is not possible to have other children use a RM, then it will be difficult for a child to hear others in the classroom very well. We may not be able to improve what the child is hearing from other children but we can still give them good access from the adults in the room.
Home Use of Remote Microphones
The FM should definitely go home with parents. Research clearly demonstrates the benefit of remote microphones when used at home.
Parents spend a lot of time with their children and are critical language models. Parents need to be able to provide good language exposure. Families should have a remote microphone that they can use at home, in the car, and walking in the street.
There are many situations in which competing noise interferes with listening. The dinner table can be a very difficult situation. Families need to understand the importance of quiet when they are talking. Turn off the dishwasher, and TV and radio while having dinner to reduce sound. Turn off the TV talking in the living room so the noise not interfere.
Families should use the RM routinely in the car because it is always difficult to hear in cars. Streets are also difficult situations because of traffic noise so families should use RM’s outside.
When children get old enough, other children should be asked to help by using a RM. They can wear it on the playground, in the lunchroom at school, or in other noisy situations.
We may not be able to make every situation perfect but we should make the ones that we can as perfect as possible. It is difficult for a child with hearing loss to hear in many situations.
We have the technology available to help children with hearing loss hear in most situations. Just do it!!!!!
I think a remote microphone can be a terrific way of hearing speech better in noise. However, as a person with severe hearing loss who has used them since the mid 1980s, I’ve seen that the vast majority of people do not use them properly. The main reason for that is they are not equipped to hear the effect of their improper microphone use, so they cannot automatically self-correct. A child, especially a preschooler, would have great difficulty managing this situation. For example, a parent who is driving is likely to forget to pass the mike to other people who are speaking. Most people will give up trying to follow the conversation. (A better microphone system can and should be set up in a car or group situation.)
I think what needs to happen is for parents and other speakers to be equipped (literally) to hear only the same signal as the person with hearing loss hears. That way, they will hear and then understand the limitations of using just one microphone in various situations and ideally, they’ll then start to figure out what they need to do to adapt, although they’ll still need help and suggested solutions.
Modern hearing aid technology that can help the user hear sound better in front will often work better than a mike that isn’t being used properly or by the correct person. Children, youth and adults with hearing loss all face a significant challenge of how to handle the challenge of hearing poorly in group situations, which is much more difficult socially than a one-on-one situation is. Even many if not most adults often don’t know how to manage such complex situations. I think that preschoolers might actually fare much better in very small groups in quiet, acoustically treated rooms, where they can have a better chance of hearing and lipreading each person who speaks.