It takes effort to listen to speech if one wants to comprehend the content of what is being said. Listening effort is normal for children and adults in communicative situations where they try to understand the speech of others, such as in education.
Increased listening effort may occur when children or adults have a hearing loss. Although hearing aids and cochlear implants may enhance speech perception for deaf and hard of hearing children and adults, listening remains effortful because of the degraded output of hearing devices and the fact that speechreading, thus visual speech perception, takes much energy and results in limited access to speech because many speech sounds are not visible on the face.
Deaf and hard of hearing children may be at risk for prolonged and excessive listening effort, certainly if they are placed in regular schools. Because in these schools spoken language is the exclusive medium of instruction and communication. In addition, classrooms number many hearing students, are not very well adapted acoustically to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students and thus constitute noisy environments, making speech perception even harder. Prolonged and excessive listening effort is potentially harmful, because it may lead to chronic mental fatigue and chronic stress, endangering mental and physical health. Alternatively, deaf or hard of hearing students may choose to withdraw from the interaction to avoid further excessive listening efforts. That latter scenario will be harmful for children’s (social or cognitive) development.
Given the influx of deaf and hard of hearing students in regular schools, because of mainstreaming after the introduction of the Law on Appropriate Education in the Netherlands, there is an urgent need to study listening effort in these students in normal and in adverse conditions (background noise) and to extend this by also investigating potential measures to reduce listening effort, for example through the use of speech supporting signs. This need is emphasized by organizations for deaf and hard of hearing people, in particular by the organization of deaf and hard of hearing youth, SH Jong.
We study listening effort by applying an objective paradigm, a dual task, in three experiments, mapping (individual variation in) listening effort in 9 to 12-year-old deaf and hard of hearing students and their hearing peers in regular schools, under normal (experiment 1), adverse (experiment 2) and potentially facilitating (experiment 3) listening conditions.