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'Audibility and clarity' by Dr Norm Erber

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What are audibility and clarity?
 
Imagine that you’ve just asked a child, “What happened on your birthday?”
 
Is the child aware that you spoke? The audibility of your speech depends on many factors that include: your distance, the intensity of your voice, and the amount of noise in the room.
 
Even if the child knows that you’ve spoken, does he or she know what you said? The child’s ability to distinguish your speech from other sounds, identify what you said and understand the meaning all depend on the clarity of your spoken message. The clarity depends on many factors that include what you said, how you said it, the child’s personal listening system, the child’s hearing and vision and what is happening nearby.
 

Why are audibility and clarity important?

 
The audibility and clarity of the sounds and images that a child receives every day are basic requirements for speech understanding and language development. Without adequate audibility, visibility or clarity, the child will not be able to recognise and make sense of what you say.
 

How can you help the child hear and learn?

 
A child cannot learn without an awareness and understanding of sounds and images. Throughout a typical day, your spoken language may vary in audibility, visibility and complexity. You may be too far away, you may speak too rapidly or background sounds may make listening difficult. You usually can compensate by moving closer, speaking more slowly or finding a quieter place.
 
But some of the time, even when the child watches and listens carefully through hearing aids and/or cochlear implants, the child may not understand what you said. If that happens, what can you do?
 
·         Your speech:  
 
ü  Be aware of how you talk
ü  Speak slowly and carefully
ü  Try to avoid extreme shifts in your voice pitch
ü  Pause briefly between phrases, clauses and sentences.
 
·         Your language:
 
ü  Speak words and sentences that are appropriate to the age and language level of the child
ü  Think about what you say: do you include rare words, unusual verb forms, inanimate subjects, or embedded clauses in your sentences?
 
·         Listening system:
 
ü  Check the child’s hearing aids and cochlear implants daily for normal function,
ü  Be sure batteries are charged
ü  Use an FM wireless system.
 
·         Hearing and vision:  
 
ü  Regularly assess the child’s ability to detect speech sounds and identify words
ü  Be aware of behaviour that may indicate a vision difficulty.
 
·         Room conditions:
 
ü  Try to avoid visual distractions
ü  Control intermittent noise entering through windows or doors.
 
There are associated challenges. It can be hard to evaluate the surrounding environment, because you probably detect and understand speech in noise better than a child with a hearing impairment. It may be difficult to monitor your own speech and language while you communicate with the child. It is hard to recognise visual distractions that are behind you.
 
Watch the child for behavioural signs of inattention, lack of awareness and comprehension difficulty. Regularly ask questions to assess understanding. Note irregularities in conversation. Repeat, clarify or provide more information when the child doesn’t understand. Clarify proactively when you feel it is necessary. Note the conditions under which the child understands you best, and try to reproduce those conditions whenever possible.
 
Erber, N.P. (2011). Auditory communication for deaf children. Camberwell, Vic: ACER Press.