Most people have times when they find listening hard work, such as when concentrating on someone speaking softly, or when trying to make out a single voice in a noisy environment. Deaf children have to pay much more attention when listening than children with typical hearing levels. This means they use more of their cognitive resources in listening effort, and have less energy for other things.
Deaf children may be more tired at the end of a school day than their hearing siblings or friends. This fatigue may have a significant impact on their learning and development.
“My 15-year-old daughter takes herself off to bed exhausted by 7.30-8pm on a school night.” - Parent
How does listening fatigue affect deaf children?
Sleepiness in the morning or falling asleep on the way home from school.
Inattentiveness or difficulty concentrating on work.
Giving up easily as tasks become more difficult.
Low frustration tolerance level.
Changes in play activity (such as decrease in stamina or not enjoying some activities especially in noisy environments).
“Many people don’t realise how exhausting listening, concentrating, filling in gaps, guessing the subject, and deciphering body language, lip patterns and facial expressions, is.” - Deaf adult
Can lipreading reduce listening effort and fatigue?
Possibly, but lipreading requires cognitive resources too. Lip-reading skills take time to develop and are limited by the vocabulary the child already knows. Also, many lip patterns are identical for different speech sounds. Research suggests that children with sufficient cognitive resources (like working memory capacity) can make use of lipreading to reduce listening effort.
“I think the fact that the impact of deafness doesn’t just manifest itself in communication isn’t well understood. It’s about the energy involved in lipreading and being attentive all day long.” - Deaf adult
Tips for dealing with listening fatigue
Ensure listening is made as easy as possible, including the consistent use of hearing aids or cochlear implants, and the use of an FM system (radio aid or soundfield system), and by making simple adaptations to the environment to ensure background noise is kept as low as possible.
Have quiet times in the day when your child can rest from listening.
Encourage your child to understand their own deafness, and to talk to teachers, family and friends about the impact it has on them.
Help your child to understand that being tired is OK.
Encourage your child to explain to their friends that if they aren’t talking much it’s not because they don’t want to, but because they are too tired to concentrate all the time.
Help your child gain the confidence to ask about moving seats in school if they can’t hear.
Make communication as easy as possible for your child by facing them, having good listening and lighting conditions, and not standing in front of a window when talking.
Help others who know your child to develop good deaf awareness skills.
Other causes of fatigue
Whilst fatigue in deaf children is often recognised as related to listening effort, there are many other causes of tiredness in children. If you are concerned you should also speak to your GP or Health Visitor.