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Greetings from FIRST YEARS!
by Kathryn Wilson, M.A., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT (
FIRST YEARS Program Director

What better time to release the spring edition of fyi than in May, the Better Hearing and Speech Month! And what better time to congratulate our recent graduates!

There is an expression, "This comes to you courtesy of ..."  This expression certainly applies to this fyi edition, for it is our students who have supplied the content as "Best Ideas." 

The first "best idea" describes how to receive free books for all your students.

The second "best idea" focuses on "acoustic friendliness" -- how to fit/retrofit rooms to combat the 3 major environmental "nemeses" which impact a child's ability to listen:

Noise levels/background noise:  Specifically, the signal-to-noise ratio or S:N, i.e. how loud the desired auditory signal is relative to the background noise.
Speaker-to-listener distance: Remember the 6dB rule!
Reverberation: The persistence of sound within an enclosed space when sound waves reflect off hard surfaces.

Congratulations to our 2012 graduates!
Job well done!
  1. Carlson, Jane Kennedy, BA Psych., MS Sp. Ed. - CO
  2. Lopez, Carrie, M.A., CCC-SLP  - CA
  3. Mulligan, Amy, MA, CCC-SLP - CO
  4. Parsons, Kristen, M.A. Ed. - PA
  5. Petro, Britt Andrews, B.S. Deaf Ed. - OH
  1. Pratt, Emily, MS, CCC-SLP - NC
  2. Ratliff, Kristine Kirby, M.Ed. OH
  3. Renick, Clay, M.A. - GA
  4. Sriram, Shuba - B.S Comm. Sci. Dis. - PA 
  5. Vale, Tracy, M.S. CCC-SLP - MA

Another graduate to congratulate!
Heather PorterHeather Porter (Au.D.), co-instructor for our course on Audiology Interpretation and Hearing Technologies, has just added another doctorate to her credentials - a Ph.D.!  We will have to call her Dr. Dr. Porter from now on.

From Heather (5/4/12): "The [dissertation] title is: Masking Level Differences and Binaural Intelligibility Level Differences in Children with Down Syndrome.  Sounds abstract, but it is really applicable to everyday situations.  We all benefit from listening with two ears rather than one because of our central auditory systems.  Children with Down syndrome have differences in the physiology of their central auditory systems compared to typically-developing children and it gave us reason to suspect that they might not get the same binaural benefits.  We looked at it using the two paradigms that are included in the title of the dissertation.  It was a great project and I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity!" 

Heather distilled the results of her dissertation into "readable" language for a letter sent to the families who participated in the study. She agreed to share it with us here.

While pursuing her degree at Vanderbilt, Heather managed its Pediatric Auditory Development Laboratory, where she was involved in both behavioral and neurophysiologic research projects.  In June, Heather will be moving to NC to take a post-doctoral position with UNC's John Grose. She will be doing research in auditory development.

Now Accepting Applications
FIRST YEARS is accepting applicants for the Fall 2012 cohort until June 12, 2012. We invite you to "spread the word." Prospective students can find more information on our website

The best ideas #1
come from our students.

We are always getting great ideas from our students! Kristen Parsons, one of our recent graduates, discovered Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, where children can receive a free book each month.

The program originally started just for East Tennessee (Dolly's home) but has now expanded to all states (except Utah, Rhode Island, and Nevada) and Canada. From the Imagination Library website: 

In 1996, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. Dolly's vision was to foster a love of reading among her county's preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family's income. (Retrieved 5/4/12)
Community libraries/organizations, called "affiliates," administer the program locally. To determine what affiliates are available in your states/locale, visit United States Champions. There, you can access a drop down menu titled "CLICK HERE TO SELECT YOUR AFFILIATE" to find current affiliates. There are also grant opportunities available.

When we shared this information with our graduates on the FYGRADS listserv, we heard back from Emily Blumberg (class of 2010): "There is a similar program called PJLibrary that gives Jewish books to Jewish children from birth to 5-6 years old. It was started by a man named Harold Grinspoon ... You can register online for the program. Both of my daughters are enrolled and we love it!" (3/6/12).

Amy Miller (class of 2011) already knew about the Imagination Library: "The county I work in (Jackson County, Michigan) has been involved in this program for quite awhile.  In fact, I am participating in a "Cooks for Books" fundraiser to help raise money for this program later this month.  My department is using the book Thunder Cake and decorating a booth and serving thunder cake to participants at the fundraiser ... I enroll all the kids on my caseload in the Imagination Library and they love receiving their monthly book."

What a wonderful gift that Ms. Parton has given to the children of this nation!

The best ideas #2
come from our students.
Acoustic "Retrofitting:" When Therapy Rooms Have More Reverberation Than Echo Canyon

In one of the exercises for our course on Audiology Interpretation and Hearing Technologies, students are asked to take a good look at a/the location where they conduct therapy, then write up a description of the environment, including the construction material used for the walls, floor, and ceiling; the types of furniture in the room (including descriptions such as "hard-surfaced" or "fabric-covered"); and the environment surrounding the room (e.g. "next to the playground" or "off a busy hallway"). Students post the description, along with their analysis of the location's acoustic "friendliness" and their recommendations for improvement. Classmates then take a second look and, as a group, come up with additional suggestions.

This year's "batch" ranged from work spaces inspiring jealousy to cafeterias, hallways, and "next to the gym."1

Barbara Moore (class of 2013) posted before and after pictures with her description. Her therapy room, which is a shared space, is a small-project kitchen room off of a busy main hallway. The laminate/metal surfaces (counters, cabinets, refrigerator, microwave) and hard vinyl tile flooring definitely posed some reverberation concerns. Barbara continued (3/18/12):

When empty, the room measures less than 50 dB on my Sound level meter2   There are 4 metal-vented ceiling squares. One fixture on the ceiling near the kitchen area looks like an exhaust fan vent When the door is closed, the room is quiet and even the hallway traffic is not noticeable. Due to the fact that the refrigerator is somewhat recessed into the wall with a set of cabinets above and one lower cabinet beside it, there seems to be a slight reduction in sound emanating from it. Any heating and air conditioning noise in the room appears to be minimal. The fluorescent lights do not make any obvious noise. The addition of the kitchen area functions to break the solid wall into sections which may further reduce reverberation A Phonic Ear soundfield tabletop is utilized with my student, which increases the signal-to-noise ratio. [With this] the student appears to be slightly more attentive. He seems to benefit from having sound come at him from more than one angle. There is some concern about reverberation with the addition of this speaker unit.
Suggestions for acoustic adjustments included:
  1. carpeting3
    1. 6 X 9 area rug (which could be stored in the closet since the room must be shared) vs. permanent carpeting on the floor
  2. tablecloths
  3. tennis balls on the chair bottoms. "If you ask around, tennis clubs/teams are often more than willing to donate spent tennis balls. They might not bounce as well, but they certainly work well to dampen chair noise! " (Heather Porter, 3/19/12)
  4. fabric wall hangings/portable fabric panels
  5. draperies (See )4
  6. soundproofing the refrigerator by lining the alcove that it sits in. (See
  7. acoustic ceiling tiles
  8. stickie cork boards
  9. "Closing down the air vents might slightly reduce the sound of blowing air or white noise. If you added an additional light source such as a lamp, you could go with the heavier draperies." (Barbara Moore, 3/18/12)
  10. sign posted outside door: "Quiet Please - Session In Progress" or "Shhh. Students listening (or learning)"
Barbara took action: "Today I tried some of the suggestions ... the addition of my alphabet carpet squares, the tablecloth, and fabric draped over two different metal frames. See the attached photo. Honestly it was hard to hear if it made a difference. After therapy time, I did go "a-begging" to the principal for any available carpeted room. With my student's vision issues plus his mobility issues, sometimes the closest, well-lit room is my best option. I will keep you all posted." (3/20/12) 
Barbara's room
And a next day follow-up: "My primary concern is still about reverberation so the bottom line is that I am seeking assistance to find a better space for therapy. The principal initially said there was nothing but I am discussing it with our SLP as well." (3/21/12)

Kent Pond brought up some economic realities we are all now facing when requesting expensive fixes: 

I don't have any problems convincing my supervisor about the need for making rooms more acoustically friendly, but it is when we need to convince the directors in the school boards that we encounter problems. Right now, we are in a spending freeze as we await the new provincial budget, which is to be released within the next few weeks. The amount of money we will have for future spending does not look good either, as we are expecting cuts in spending for the upcoming year. I am thinking that it would depend upon the item that I am asking them to purchase. If I wanted them to purchase sound absorption balls for the chair legs, I might get these; but if I told them they should purchase a sound field FM, then I am sure they would not do it. (3/30/12)
Fortunately, there are some reasonably-priced fixes. As Barbara concluded: "To save our district money, I am that teacher who stalks the local tennis clubs for worn out tennis balls. My dear husband is the one who cuts them one by one with his bandsaw. He has done literally thousands of balls since I started at this job and fortunately he still has all ten fingers! The teachers of my students are so grateful for something that reduces the classroom noise level. I even have teachers without HI kids approach me for spare tennis balls." (4/1/12) 
1 Not all is lost: a "teachable moment" from a not-at-all-friendly room: "Thank you for the resources.  I will be passing along the drapery website.  In looking at this site it also has bigger sound absorbing items that would be terrific for our school gyms and auditoriums.  These are areas that even the FM system doesn't help my students.  I have my students come to my office for activities during the pep rallies as it's just too loud for them.  We do various activities and talk as a group about their experiences in school, concerns, or anything they want.  One pep rally time the kids compared their hearing aids and cochlear implants.  It was a great technology session!!!" (Barbara Jenkins, 3/20/12) 
2Need an inexpensive sound meter app? See our article on "Sound Meter with iPhone".
3"With the mold concerns and air quality issues, all of the schools are ripping out their carpeting. That was always one of the best things about some of our classrooms." (Barbara Moore, 3/18/12)
4The Fire Marshall is very, very strict in our district. No drapes are allowed nor are fabric coverings over bookcases or doorways.  If, and that's a big if, they were allowed, the school/teacher has to PROVE that the fabric is certified fire retardant.  While these fabrics do exist they are very costly. I believe our Fire Marshall has also influenced the carpeting in the classrooms though allergies is a large component due to the potential for mold, germs, etc. (Barbara Jenkins, 3/20/12)

AG Bell's Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center
This gives us the opportunity to introduce AG Bell's new Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center ( Released May 1, the new website is the "the go-to resource on the web for families and children, adults and professionals on listening and spoken language." Faculty member and AG Bell President-Elect, Donald Goldberg ("Dr. Don") and current president Kathleen Treni shared their thoughts on the new center.

The center has many excellent resources for both professionals and families, including this article offering additional ideas for improving room acoustics:

Check it outReducing Noise in Learning Spaces

From the FIRST YEARS Reference Library
We began our newsletter by listing 3 acoustic variables -- speaker-to-listener distance, noise, and reverberation -- on a child's ability to perceive speech. As our students shared, we can make some environmental adjustments in the classroom, and today's hearing aids allow for some reduction of noise in the signal. Despite the filtering, however, current hearing-aid technology cannot determine exactly what it is that a child needs to hear and what is extraneous background noise.

That's where another technology can help: FM systems, whether personal or soundfield. In both, a microphone is placed closer to the sound of interest (e.g. the speaker), thus reducing the impact of background noise and reverberation.

Sometimes audiologists will have a child use a loaner FM system just to see how it works prior to a final purchase. Early interventionists can be very helpful in this process by providing feedback to the family and audiologist. 

To end our discussion, we share the FM Listening Evaluation, a tool for documenting observations to provide just such feedback.
Check it outFM Listening Evaluation For Children

You asked for it! You got it!
In last year's winter edition we asked if past graduates would like to have a chance to take the new course we added to the certificate, Listening & Spoken Language Development & Intervention. Several of you responded, "Yes!" We are pleased to offer that opportunity this fall. More information will be forthcoming in our next edition, but we wanted to give a heads-up to those of you who expressed an interest.

Names in the News
Recent publications by FIRST YEARS faculty, students, and mentors
  1. Talking Tips -  is available from faculty member Karen Rossi, creator of Learn to Talk Around The Clock®. To subscribe, send an email to:
    1. Talking Tips (Theme: "Little Helper"), February, 2012.
    2. Talking Tips (Theme: "Animals"), March, 2012.
    3. Talking Tips (Theme: "Word, words, words."), April, 2012.
Upcoming workshops by our faculty, students, and mentors
  1. Barton, C. (class of 2011). Advanced Bionics Webinar Series 2: Using Music and Water to Facilitate Listening in Young Children with Chris Barton.
    1. Singing in the Rain: Using Music and Water to Facilitate Listening. May 15, 2012, 12 pm & 8 pm EST <morning session> <evening session>
  2. Barton, C. (class of 2011) & Robbins, A.M. Music, Language and Literacy: Mother Goose Revisited. Short course. AG Bell 2012 Convention. Thursday, 6/28, 1:00 p.m. 4:30 p.m.  LSLS/ASHA Credit.
  3. Baumann, A. (class of 2007) & Zegar, M. Utilizing Coaching to Optimize Self-Advocacy Development. Learning Track: Toddlers & Preschool. Concurrent Session. AG Bell 2012 Convention. Sunday, 7/1, 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. LSLS/ASHA Credit.
  4. Fickenscher, S.J. (class of 2007). Parenting and Teaching with Love & Logic® . Learning Track: Roads Less Traveled. Concurrent Session. AG Bell 2012 Convention. Sunday, 7/1, 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. LSLS/ASHA Credit.
  5. Goldberg, D. Identifying and Managing Pediatric Hearing Loss. Cleveland Clinic Center. Friday, May 11, 2012. ASHA credit.
  6. Goldberg, D. Foundations in Listening, Language and Learning for Infants and Toddlers who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Short course. AG Bell 2012 Convention. Thursday, 6/28, 8:00 a.m. 11:30 a.m.. LSLS/ASHA Credit.
  7. Vernelson, S.  & Heavner, K.S. Language versus Academics: The Battle is On (Or Is It?). Short course. AG Bell 2012 Convention. Thursday, 6/28, 1:00 p.m. 4:30 p.m.  LSLS/ASHA Credit.
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© 2012, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill FIRST YEARS Certificate in Auditory Learning for Young Children with Hearing Loss. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in any medium for non-commercial purposes.
Publication date: May, 2012