As a follow up to our blog post titled White Noise Machines and Auditory Development, we’ve been in contact with some experts in our own community to ask a few more questions to help parents with understanding their child’s needs related to auditory, speech and language development. Below is a Q&A session with Carla Monteleone, Speech-Language Pathologist and Fred Matta, Audiologist. Both clinicians specialize in pediatric services.
Question 1: From the article in Pediatrics published on March 3rd, we learned that white noise should not be played continuously (24/7) as it can affect speech and language development. If parents are using white noise at night as a means to improve their child’s sleep, what can they do during the day to help with speech and language development when the white noise is off?
The auditory system is constantly active, even during sleep, and although speech and language development is a process that takes place during waking hours, the fine tuning of the cochlea (organ of hearing) and the laying down of the auditory pathways occurs in response to sound stimulation. An infant’s auditory system requires exposure to a variety of complex sounds such as speech and music in order to develop the proper auditory pathways needed to be able to discriminate and recognize meaningful sounds. White noise may be a helpful way to lull or sustain an infant’s sleep state, but should be used sparingly because it does not vary in pitch and loudness across pitches.
Question 2: During the day, parents can help with their child’s speech and language development in many different ways including:
Talk to your child as you change, dress, feed and bathe your him/her. You can talk about what you are doing, what you are seeing.
Add gestures with words when you communicate (e.g. waving bye while saying bye, throwing kisses and making a kissing noise)
Respond to your child by imitating your child’s smiles, laughter, vocalizations, babbling sounds and/or word attempts
Sing songs especially action songs (e.g. itsy bitsy spider, pat-a-cake, the wheels on the bus)
Play people games (e.g. peek-a-boo, row row row your boat)
Read to your child. Children seem to enjoy lift the flap books and books with different texture. These add the opportunity for my language input.
The more your child sees non-verbal language (facial expressions, gestures) and hears verbal language (sounds and words), the more his/her language skills will develop.
Question 3: Can you give us a brief description of auditory development in a baby? For example are all the auditory pathways laid down before birth or do they continue to develop in the first year(s)?
The human cochlea (organ responsible for hearing) is fully formed and functional by the end of the second trimester (weeks 24 – 26 gestation). The period of time from the end of the second trimester to about 6 months of age is critical. This is when the fine-tuning of the cochlea or in other words, its ability to discriminate between different pitches of sound develops. This is why the recommendation for babies born with hearing loss is to provide them with suitable amplification before or by 6 months to maximize communication development and learning. The auditory pathway continues to develop over the next several years as the child begins to acquire speech and language. Chronic hearing loss in the early years can negatively affect normal auditory development and delay speech and language acquisition and learning.
Question 4: We talked about what to do to support speech and language development during the day, do you have any recommendations about protecting hearing?
Four ways to protect hearing include:
ONE: Learn to recognize sources that generate harmful noise and avoid or limit exposure when possible. Hearing damage caused by noise is primarily due to two things: A) Loudness of noise source and B) Exposure time. The louder the sound, the shorter the time before permanent hearing damage may occur. Some examples of potential sources of loud noises a child may be exposed to include: IPODs, car stereos, vacuum cleaners, power tools, lawn mower, TV, blender. Events such as weddings, concerts, movie theatres and sporting events are other examples.
TWO: Avoid competing noise sources in the same area (e.g. don’t try watching TV while vacuuming). You will simply end up turning the volume of the TV higher to overcome the noise of the vacuum cleaner and inevitably risk overexposure to loud noise.
THREE: Avoid purchasing very noisy toys. In Canada, The Hazardous Products Act prohibits the sale of toys that emit sound exceeding 100 decibels. However, even this level of sound can cause hearing damage in a child. Read the label on the toy to check its noise rating. If there is no noise rating, listen to the toy and if you have to raise your voice to be heard over the toy or if it sounds uncomfortably loud, don’t buy it.
FOUR: Wear hearing protection. When it’s not possible to avoid the potentially harmful noise source, hearing protection may be the next best alternative.
Question 5: From a sound and noise perspective, what are the ranges in loudness that a baby experiences in a day? For example, how loud are the sounds around the house and the community?
For a baby, the primary place in which he or she spends the majority of time is in the home. The sound environment will differ depending on the location, for example, a noisy main street versus a quiet cul de sac. Generally, sounds around the house can range from the hum of a refrigerator (around 50 decibel) to a food processor (80 – 90 decibel). Average conversational speech is at around 60 – 65 decibel). A vacuum cleaner, traffic noise and a dog barking are about 70 decibel. A hair dryer is around 90dB and inside a concert space can be as lout as 110dB.
Thank you to Fred and Carla for sharing some great insights and tips on speech, language and hearing development and ways to protect our little one’s ears.
Fred Matta, MClinAud, R.AUD., R.HIP is a Vancouver-based Audiologist involved in the diagnosis and management of childhood and adult hearing disorders as well as having a keen interest in hearing conservation and auditory processing disorders.
Carla Monteleone. MSLP RSLP SLP(C) is a Speech-Language Pathologist primarily working in the Lower Mainland. Carla primiarily works with preschool and school-aged children. Her interests are in the areas of children with apraxia of speech and fluency disorders.