New research has found that music lessons can be beneficial for hard of hearing and Deaf children to help develop their listening skills and improve their wellbeing.
The research involved a group of 14 children attending a 12 week music therapy program that resulted in improved skills in separating sounds and noises.
The children, who used cochlear implants or hearing aids, also had better emotional wellbeing after the program.
Dr Chi Yhun Lo from Macquarie University led the research and says the benefits of music lessons go beyond developing a child’s listening skills.
“One of my motivations to do this study was to combat the stigma and discrimination that some Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children face in school,” says Dr Lo.
“For example, being excluded from choir, or orchestra, or just music in general. This is mostly on the basis that they don’t have the perceptual listening skills to participate.
“However, I think a lot of children (i.e. typical-hearing children) generally don’t have very good perceptual skills either, but we don’t exclude them!
“Participation, and access to participate is really important, particularly when DHH kids often have poorer mental health outcomes than their hearing peers.”
The music program that was part of the research involved group lessons in person and the use of online musical apps.
It aimed to help teach children how to decipher the sounds they were picking up and focus on the important sounds in noisy environments, as cochlear implants and hearing aids don’t pick up sounds in the same way that ears do and requires a person’s brain to be able to filter sounds.
Music was chosen as the activity to facilitate learning for the children because it involves a lot of brain stimulation and can also be fun - making the learning easier.
One parent says the family wants to continue with the music program, because of the positive difference it made.
“Our son has made significant progress in the 12 weeks, and we would love for him to go further again,” explains the parent.
“We have noticed that he has become quicker to identify songs on the radio, and even more astounding is that he has suddenly developed some intonation and tune to his singing along, which was previously non-existent.
“In addition, his music teacher at school has commented on his improvement, as have his clarinet teacher and band leader.”
Before starting the program, the children filled out a questionnaire and their responses were compared to a group of other children with “typical hearing”.
The Deaf and hard of hearing children had more of a tendency to internalise problems they were experiencing than the typical hearing children.
At the end of the music program, the Deaf and hard of hearing children were less likely to internalise their emotions about problems with peer relationships and were better at emotional regulation, showing that their wellbeing had improved.
While the study did not specifically focus on using Auslan (Australian Sign Language) during the music lessons, Dr Lo says some of the children did use Auslan and that he believes music can be a great link to signing.
“Personally, and philosophically, I don’t view music as a hearing only task,” he says.
“It really taps into a range of skills that are good for the brain, a full body workout in a way, that leverages motor skills, visual skills, memory and social skills.
“Because music is multimodal, and very visual, I think Auslan is a great fit for music.
“One only needs to look at signing choirs, the growing use of interpreters at live gigs, and champion bands, such as Alter Boy, to see how Auslan use is growing in the context of music.
“I would love to create another study with better accessibility for Auslan users, perhaps with haptic feedback and sensors for example!”
Dr Lo’s previous research has shown that music can also be used to help people with cochlear implants to identify stress and intonation in a person’s speech, so they can hear the emotion in the voice or differentiate between a question and a statement.
“While children have great neuroplastic advantages - their brains are literally like sponges - adults also have the advantage of experience and, for adults who lost their hearing later in life, have the advantage of having the memory of what music used to sound like, prior to their hearing loss,” explains Dr Lo.
The next stage of Dr Lo’s research will be to look at music training for adults with hearing aids, as well as the benefits of choir-based singing for DHH children.
He hopes these studies will go for longer periods of time and involve more participants.