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Silence is the best medicine for children with special educational needs

06 of June '22

Whether our child is hearing correctly is often not easy to determine with the "naked eye." However, the time until the problem is diagnosed can be crucial to the proper development of a growing child. Indeed, experts note that it is the school stage that is the crucial moment when not only developmental changes take place, but also adaptation in new life spaces, significantly affecting the formation of forms of communication. The noise that children experience in schools with poor acoustics can harm them. Especially since what is an inconvenience for non-disabled students is often an almost insurmountable barrier for students with communication problems.

School is acoustically a whole new world for a child. If a toddler hears poorly, he may develop less well, especially since the problem of hearing loss is not so obvious to diagnose. Experts point out that although parents often know intuitively that something is wrong, it is at school that it turns out that a child begins to have problems, such as the son of Ms. Anna from Izabelin, who struggles with hypersensitivity to noise. Harmider completely discourages the toddler from going to school, so the concerned mother seeks help from specialists.

A toddler at home is used to his parents' voice and the noises he hears, for example, when cooking or cleaning. These are repetitive noises," says Aleksandra Glowacka, president of the Polish Foundation for Assistance to Hearing Impaired Children "Echo".- In school, on the other hand, a child learns completely new sounds, while gaining knowledge that he or she needs to hear and understand well in order to comprehend and process it, and use it at a later age. Any additional noise or humming interferes with the child's ability to hear all consonants, vowels, understand words and learn them and their meanings well, the expert adds.

Akustyka w szkołach

Acoustics in schools

© Ecophon

Research shows that Polish schools are too noisy

Ms. Anna's son's problem is not a marginal one. More than 20 percent of students attend schools where teaching is hampered by the poor quality of the physical infrastructure (including acoustics), according to the latest OECD PISA survey. The report also indicates that as many as 28.7 percent of Polish students say there is noise during most or every lesson. In contrast, 26.5 percent confirm that it takes a long time for students to quiet down during most or every lesson.

These are very disturbing results, especially since children are more sensitive to noise than adults. The younger the student, the more sensitive he or she is," says Mikolaj Jarosz, an expert from Ecophon, a company specializing in interior acoustics, co-author of the handbook and co-author of the "Acoustic Ecology Guide" and the "Poland in decibels" report.

Glowacka, meanwhile, adds that if children do not hear the teacher well, they hear speech unclearly. Thus, they will not understand what the teacher is saying. They then have limited memorization ability and trouble concentrating. Then they are naturally slower to learn and more stressed. Ultimately, this transfers to poorer academic performance, which then drags on for years.

Suddenly it turns out that the child is not smart enough, or that he doesn't work hard enough, doesn't want to, or is naughty - just because he didn't have the right conditions in school. Then this stigma follows him throughout his schooling.He doesn't get the high school he wanted, he doesn't go to the college he wanted, there is frustration and his level and quality of life is much lower," stresses Głowacka.

Akustyka w szkołach

Acoustics in schools

© Ecophon

Concerned parents say take matters into your own hands

According to the latest estimates from the Synapsis Foundation, there are approx. 20,000 children struggling with the difficulties caused by autism. And according to a study by the Supreme Audit Office, in the 2018/2019 school year, special education in schools and kindergartens benefited more than 54 thousand children with disabilities including Asperger's syndrome. The problem of the dependence of acoustics and its impact on learning is also noted by Jerzy Ksiazek, the dad of a student at an elementary school with integrated departments, where parents have recognized that adults share responsibility for creating a healthy indoor environment that is conducive to learning.

I can see in retrospect that the kids at our school, kids with various deficits, the first thing they need in moments of stress is to calm down and disconnect from their surroundings, and on the other hand, also silence. Silence that heals. And this silence was missing everywhere. That's why we decided to make our school one of the first where the acoustics will meet the recommended requirements," explains the parent. Aleksandra Glowacka, on the other hand, adds that even a minor hearing loss affects speech comprehension, comprehension of acquired material, processing, memorization and concentration. - All this goes one after the other. Often it's the case that parents notice that something is going on, the child was studying well, and now he's getting worse grades. This could be the fault of the hearing loss. It's just that getting to the cause is often quite difficult," stresses the Echo Foundation president.

Where there is bad acoustics in the classroom, the problems begin. So what should be done?

According to the report "Acoustics in schools", conducted in 2018 by specialists from the University of Silesia and Ecophon, a company that supplies acoustic panels to schools - hard, smooth surfaces easily reflect sound waves, and therefore such finished interiors strongly amplify the sounds produced in them. The same is true of reverberation, which deteriorates speech intelligibility: the larger the room, the harder its finish and the less furnishings, the stronger the reverberation. There are more than 22,000 primary and secondary schools in Poland. The vast majority of the rooms in the buildings in which these institutions operate are devoid of any solutions for shaping the interior acoustics.

You can, of course, look for a school with good acoustics, but you can also improve those that have problems with it. You can take advantage of various programs, such as the MEN program "Laboratories of the Future" or the ZUS program "Maintaining the ability to work throughout employment," explains Mikolaj Jarosz.

Such projects are making more and more attention to the problem of acoustics, and new schools are already being built properly, according to the current standard. But the problems still do not disappear completely.

Even recently, one mother called asking for advice as she is looking for a school for her child with hearing aids, as the toddler is now 6 years old. She is preparing for this and paying a lot of attention to the acoustics of the schools she is checking. She says she can see right away that the child learns the material much more easily when he learns in a muted room. And it's completely different when it's loud and reverberant. We see it too - when we enter a school or kindergarten where there is good acoustics - we can hear it from the threshold," adds Aleksandra Glowacka.

Ms. Anna from Izabelin, on the other hand, wants to take a different path. Since her school has many children with special educational needs, she intends to apply for acoustic modernization funding from the State Fund for Rehabilitation of the Disabled. No one has tried this before, but there's a chance of success, because it's these children that acoustic improvements will best serve. Because, after all, silence heals.

For more information, visit the company's ECOPHON, SAINT-GOBAIN page on the A&B portal.

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