Listening fatigue is an actual thing and it does dramatically impact the energy and behaviors of my children with hearing loss.
Like our bodies feel exhaustion after a long run, when our brain is in overdrive we can feel physically exhausted too. For individuals with hearing loss, the extra effort they have to put in to not just hear, but understanding speech can be particularly wearing. In fact, Phonak Hearo, Ellie Parfitt shared that she has gotten so tired of listening in a classroom that she has fallen asleep in class.
For my children, like for Ellie, listening is exhausting. The brain actually uses three parts to hear: Broca’s area for speech production, the Wernicke’s area for speech comprehension, and the temporal lobe to manage hearing (Bricker, 2015). For people without hearing loss, these three parts work cohesively allowing them to listen with less effort. For an individual with hearing loss, there is a disruption in this hearing process. The brain has to “work, think, and concentrate harder than with normal hearing…increasing the challenges of communication and leading to listening fatigue” (Bricker, 2015).
With a baby or child with hearing loss, it can be difficult to know what is listening fatigue and what is normal child behavior. There are so many variables that can impact a child’s behavior. All children get tired, cry, get fussy, and throw tantrums and they don’t usually have the vocabulary and insight to be able to express to you that they are worn out. With that said, I will share that there are a number of (subtle) ways that we noticed listening fatigue impacting our children.
Both of my children with hearing loss need more sleep in a day then my hearing child. They get tired quickly and need to take more breaks, go to bed earlier, and take more frequent naps. The Sleep Foundation has recommendations for the amount of sleep in a day an infant and child needs. Ayden and Sayge both need the maximum amount of sleep recommended.
This is the word we use at our home to describe the state our kids get into when it isn’t bedtime, but the children are worn down and can’t cope as they normally do. This can look like crying often, easily angered and irritated, more likely to lash out. All infants and children can get overstimulated, however, Ayden and Sayge tend to get overwhelmed, irritated and weepy at a quicker rate.
Another way I notice that my son is becoming worn out is when it takes him a few extra moments to respond to a question I ask. I know that he is working hard to hear what I am saying, and filling in the gaps to acutally make sense of what I am saying and is eventually able to process and understand. When he is tired or fatigued, this takes longer than normal.
Ayden is a party animal. He is outgoing, lively, and enjoys engaging in fun and new activities. So it seemed strange when I noticed that we would go to birthday parties and he would disappear in a bedroom somewhere to play by himself. He naturally was giving himself a break; some time to relax, be in the quiet and recoup himself.
While listening fatigue can greatly impact children with hearing loss, there are a number of accommodations that can make listening a little easier.
McCreery says that one of the best ways to lower listening fatigue is to not only use hearing aids but also hearing assistance technology like a Roger or FM system. Using these systems gains “the best opportunity to access the auditory signal with the least amount of effort” (McCreery).
For our family, consistent use of hearing aids combined with using the Roger Touchscreen Mic allows us to help make hearing a little easier. Additionally, as a family, we ensure our children see our faces when we speak, we come closer to them when we speak, we are expressive, and we also use sign language.
“For our family, consistent use of hearing aids combined with using the Roger Touchscreen Mic allows us to help make hearing a little easier.”
With the use of technology and these accommodations to how we communicate, our children are less frustrated and are more connected to us and what is going on around them. This allows them to engage in activities they love. In fact, Ayden loves using the touchscreen mic so much that he will go get it and ask us to put it on even when we are close by.
We use the microphone in many situations –during bike rides, while in the car, and at the playground. We also use it at the kitchen table for dinner, when I am reading him a book, and when I am cooking dinner in the other room. The touchscreen mic removes/reduces the barrier of background noise and distance.
Using this technology doesn’t negate the impact of listening fatigue, but it helps the kids hear with less effort. Our children still need more rest and more breaks, but they don’t have to miss out on the experiences they love to be part of. We cannot imagine our lives without the support of hearing aids and the Roger Touchscreen mic.
McCreey, R.(2015). For Children with hearing loss listening can be exhausting work.
Journal Club, V: 68:5, p. 26, 28. doi: 10.1097/01.hj0000465741.63770.2a.
Parfitt, E. (2016). What you should know about concentration fatigue. Retrieved from:
Bricker, S. (2015). Hearing loss and listening fatigue: part 1. Starkey Hearing
Technologies. Retrieved from: www.starkey.com/blog/2015/7/listenfatigue-kids.