Becca Meyers, a world-record-holding and multiple medal-winning paralympic swimmer from Baltimore, recently won the ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability. Meyers was born with Usher Syndrome, which caused her deafness and will eventually make her go blind. She’s worn cochlear implants her entire life. According to the story in the Baltimore Sun, she heard the news of her win in Glasgow, Scotland while competing at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships. Her ESPY win adds to an already stellar week–the day before the announcement she broke her own world record in the 200-meter IM by taking two seconds of her previous record time.
American Pharoah sprinted to win the first Triple Crown in 37 years. His trainer, Bob Baffert selected brown ear plugs—rather than the typical white cotton used with other horses—that better match the bay colt’s coloring. Many race horses wear ear plugs.
Horses have a wider range of hearing sensitivity than humans. We typically hear from 20 Hertz out to 20,000 Hertz. Horses hear out to 35,000 Hertz. This means they hear a lot of sound not perceived by human ears.
Breeders carefully mate and breed thoroughbred horses to become highly valued racers that perform at exceptional levels. A horse needs a certain amount of alertness to perform at the top, however, galloping hooves, yelling jockeys, cracking whips and cheering fans create a cacophony of noise. Even urban noise such as rescue vehicle sirens on city streets nearby can be heard on the track.
This creates a sound environment that might increase startle responses and make the horse skittish. Because of the noisy environment and the need for a high level of performance, trainers condition them to run at their best with a ‘noisy crowd’ live audience and with unusual noise distractions down on the track.
Some thoroughbreds, like American Pharoah, find this excessive noise unsettling and confusing. They lose focus and become nervous, distracted and might not perform as expected. Ear plugs offer damping and filtering of noise to assist the horse to focus on the race. They are not worn as hearing conservation but rather as a way to calm the horse.
Interesting facts about American Pharoah:
- Foaled February 2, 2012
- Owned by Ahmed Zayat
- Trained by Bob Baffert
- Ridden by Victor Espinoza (for most races)
- 12th Triple Crown winner in history
- Name is misspelled, through an error in registration of the name but is now permanent. Pharaoh is the correct spelling
- Both the correct and incorrect name spellings are registered so another horse cannot use the correct spelling.
Pamela Mason, MEd, CCC-A, is ASHA director of audiology professional practices. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The River School—tucked along a tree-lined street in Washington, D.C.’s Northwest quadrant, alongside the Potomac River—specializes in the oral education of young children with hearing loss. But unlike other programs that silo and segregate deaf children from their typically hearing peers, the private school has developed an inclusive, mutually beneficial program that urges literacy and speech skills in both sets of students at the same time.
The ASHA Leader recently spent a sunny spring morning at the school. Here’s who we met and what they do.
On the other side
Jennie Massad has always had a personal connection to her job.
The preschool teacher wears a hearing aid for her moderate-to-severe hearing loss—an instant link to her students who also have aids or cochlear implants. But after the birth of her daughter, Amelia, and the diagnosis of Amelia’s hearing loss, Massad gained another connection to the River School—as a parent.
Massad’s worked at the school for eight years and appreciates the staff’s focus on the students and serving their needs. “[Amelia’s] teachers are aware of pushing language a little bit more and exposing her more,” Massad says, “where in the regular daycare, they’d be aware of it, but they may have a lot of other kids and it’s just not the top priority.”
With 11-month-old Amelia in the school’s infant program down the hall from her own classroom, Massad attends her daughter’s once-a-week treatment sessions, typical of most students with hearing loss. (Children 18 months or older participate in classroom programs, while the school takes babies as young as 6 weeks into its daycare.)
The school serves about 230 students—39 of whom have a hearing loss, according to Julie Verhoff, River’s audiology director—and employs a team of specialists to educate them. Each class includes a dedicated SLP to assist general educators like Massad, while audiologists offer support by troubleshooting issues with assistive technology. A handful of psychologists, therapists and other specialists fill out other offices.
And while it’s still a long way off for Amelia, students who complete third grade—the highest level of instruction offered at the River School—flow into mainstream public or private schools in the area, typically with ease.
Sounding it out with ‘Mouth Time’
On the April weekday morning of our visit, Fiacre Douglas sits on a carpeted floor, encouraging students to blow cocoa powder into the air.
Douglas is considerably older than your typical second-year speech-language pathology graduate student, but his enthusiasm for this new path shows in his interactions with students. As a student clinician at the River School this semester (the school calls him an intern), he’s been supervised by Samantha Wasilus—one of the school’s SLPs—and enjoys hands-on experiences in the classroom.
The cocoa powder—or “dino dust,” as Douglas and Wasilus call it to fit their current “back in time” theme—is one of today’s Mouth Time tools. Mouth Time, a River School innovation, takes place for 15 minutes a day in each class to help students develop literacy skills.
Sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle, the kids practice making a “ch” sound by placing their dino-dust–covered palms up to their lips. Each successful production receives a chocolate-y, chalky explosion as reward, followed by squeals of delight (and a meticulous lick of the hand for leftover specks). Later in the quick productive session, the children sound out words using symbols written on “dinosaur eggs.”
“What’s great about Mouth Time is that the kids all learn these symbols for the shape of their mouth, and how the words are formed, before they actually learn what the letters look like,” says Douglas, who recently completed his clinical placement and earned his master’s degree from George Washington University. “For the kids who have special needs for hearing, we’re making sure they’re hearing the word, they’re understanding the word and they’re learning it—as well as the other kids who don’t have those issues.”
Haley Blum is a writer/editor for The ASHA Leader. email@example.com.
A quick Google query tells us that “attitude” is a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.
Millie likes to go to the shooting range with family members. Her caring family makes sure to protect her hearing. (Millie is a rescue pup belonging to Christine Sanders, a senior in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Valdosta State University.) If only all parents understood the importance of hearing protection.
In 2009, I participated on a research team studying hearing protection use and attitudes of young adults toward exposure to loud sound. Our target population was college-age adults in the U.S. We compared results to a similar age group in Sweden. The data suggested that, by comparison with the Swedish sample, American young adults are less likely to view loud sound as a health hazard.
We live in a noisy world. Consider, for example, the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs who proudly proclaimed they broke the Seattle Seahawks record for the loudest outdoor stadium sound level record at 142.4 decibels (dB). By comparison, a jet fighter taking off from an aircraft carrier generates approximately 140 dB. It’s estimated that at 150 dB, the human eardrum ruptures.
Where does our craving for loud sound first develop? Music and speech share similar development characteristics. Consequently, we develop our taste for loud sound at an early age.
If we know that hearing loss due to noise exposure is 100 percent preventable, and attitudes toward health safety or risks are developed earlier in life, then we need to work harder to establish early awareness on the negative effects of loud sounds—ideally in preschool and lower elementary grades.
Unfortunately, most research and campaigns on hearing protection still focus on young adults. Researchers report a growing incidence of hearing loss among young individuals, particularly ages 12 to 19. By the time we survey young adults in college, attitudes regarding the potential danger of noise exposure have already been formed, perhaps five to 10 years earlier.
So, while college-age students are a convenient (and important) source of data, the information obtained from this age group probably reflects the consequences of attitudes most likely developed at a younger age.
In the spirit of Better Hearing and Speech Month, what can we do?
We should amplify our warnings to young people about noise-induced hearing damage. The use (and abuse) of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol get tons of exposure. And texting while driving is certainly a hot issue. However, the effects of noise exposure get little attention. Efforts do exist to inform parents and children, such as Dangerous Decibels and Listen to Your Buds. But they aren’t as widespread as messages on texting or drugs.
As professionals in the field of communications, we should:
- Develop a mandate for instruction in health and physical education classes regarding the damaging effects of exposure to loud sound.
- Increase hearing screening frequency at the K-12 level—an area that has in recent years retreated, not expanded.
- Expand efforts to promote programs such as Dangerous Decibels and Listen To Your Buds to the level of safe driving classes in high school.
Healthier attitudes toward loud sound need to be developed earlier!
Ted L. Johnson, AuD, CCC-A, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Valdosta State University. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1o, Issues in Higher Education. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Worldwide, the statistics are sobering:
- 360 million people have disabling hearing loss.
- 43 million people between the ages of 12–35 years live with disabling hearing loss.
- Half of all cases of hearing loss are avoidable through primary prevention.
Of course, none of this likely comes as a surprise to ASHA members, particularly audiologists, who are on the front lines of care for people with hearing loss. The good news is that we are going to hear a lot more about this serious health issue with the help of a high-profile group.
Today, on International Ear Care Day, the World Health Organization is elevating the profile of hearing loss—specifically noise-induced hearing loss—by launching a new campaign called Make Listening Safe.
The campaign educates the public about hearing dangers posed by noisy leisure activities and promotes simple prevention strategies. Young people are the focus because an increasing number are experiencing hearing loss. As the creator of the highly successful Listen to Your Buds campaign, WHO asked ASHA experts to advise on Make Listening Safe. A role the association enthusiastically embraced.
ASHA used Listen to Your Buds to provide an early warning on potential hearing dangers from misuse of personal music players and the need for safe listening. Today, as this technology is nearly ubiquitous, the campaign is going strong on a variety of fronts.
One of ASHA’s most successful ventures is its safe listening concert series. The series educates young children about protecting their ears in a fun, interactive way by bringing innovative musicians and performances to U.S. schools. A new video showcases the most recent concert series, which took place in six Orlando-area schools in conjunction with ASHA’s 2014 convention.
Misuse of personal audio devices is also a key area of focus for Make Listening Safe. According to WHO, among teenagers and young adults aged 12 to 35 years in middle- and high-income countries, nearly 50 percent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of these devices.
This is one of the new global estimates being released with the launch of Make Listening Safe. In addition to a high-profile unveiling in Geneva, WHO is issuing a variety of materials featuring statistics on the problem’s scope, the hearing loss consequences and action steps that parents, teachers, physicians, managers of noisy venues, manufacturers and governments can take to make listening leisure activities safer.
ASHA asks members to take up the campaign. Here are just a few ideas on how you can get involved:
- Utilize the WHO’s eye-catching public education materials—including posters, a fact sheet, and an infographic—with peers, patients, friends and loved ones.
- Engage in grassroots public education, such as sharing statistics and prevention tips on social media or holding a free hearing screening.
- Approach local media to pitch a story. The campaign’s launch with accompanying statistics is a great news hook. You can tie the story to your local community by highlighting an event your practice is hosting or offer tips for safe listening at local noisy venues (e.g., stadiums, concert venues/clubs). This is also an excellent consumer health story for a television station, particularly because it offers “news you can use” such as easy prevention tips.
The focus on noise-induced hearing loss in young people is not limited to March. While the WHO campaign will be ongoing, ASHA will also poll the public about safe listening practices. Our results will provide more opportunity for outreach during Better Hearing & Speech Month in May and beyond. Stay tuned!
Judith L. Page, PhD, CCC-SLP, is ASHA’s new president. She served as program director for Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Kentucky for 17 years and as chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences for 10 years.