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Understanding how babies and toddlers listen

Published Date: 04 Sep 2021

We're supporting research being done by the UCL Ear Institute on how deaf babies access sound around them. This is called the Baby Soundscapes project. If you are a parent of a young deaf infant aged 3 to 18 months, read on to find out more about the project and how you can get involved. 

Many deaf babies use hearing aids from the first weeks of life. Hearing aids allow them to hear speech and other sounds in quiet listening situations. However, there are times when it might be difficult to hear even with hearing aids such as when there are lots of other noises echoing around the room, or there is a distance of more than one-two metres between the baby and the sound they need to hear.

Remote microphone technology allows sound to be sent from a microphone transmitter to a receiver in a hearing aid or cochlear implant. This technology can help overcome problems by helping children hear speech and important sounds more clearly, especially when there are lots of other noises in the background. We know that remote microphone technology helps deaf children from the age of about 3-4 years, but we don’t know whether and how it is useful for younger children and particularly for those age under 18 months.

It is important that babies hear speech well in order for them to learn language and speech themselves. They also need to hear sounds in the environment to learn about the world around them, such as birdsong, music, toys, pets, household noises and other sounds in their everyday lives. Hearing babies easily hear the world around them while deaf babies only tend to hear well when sounds are close to them. It can be hard for them to notice the sounds that are further away and so they might miss out on learning about what those sounds mean.

We think that remote microphone technology may help deaf babies, not only to hear your voice more clearly when you are further away, but also hear other important sounds that help them learn. We want to understand the everyday routine experiences of deaf babies and their families, and those of hearing babies and their families. We will use this information to look at how best to use remote microphone technology so that deaf babies get the best possible sound experience. We want to understand whether families with deaf babies do things differently and whether they might find remote microphone technology helpful.

In order to find out more about how babies and toddlers learn about sounds in their environment the research team have developed a series of short questionnaires for parents to fill in. The questionnaire asks about your everyday interactions with your child in different situations. 

Visit the UCL Baby Soundscapes project website to find out more about the project and how you can take part.