Better Hearing and Speech Month

You have likely engaged in multiple conversations today. You spoke, your communication partner spoke, you spoke back, they spoke back, and on it went. You expressed yourself with speech, they listened. They expressed themselves with speech, you listened with your amazing hearing ability. Back and forth it went, and you likely didn’t give it a second thought.

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Like most of our abilities, communication is a phenomenal process. It is a two-way street, with information going in, and information going out.

The receptive aspect of communication consists of all modes of taking in information—including reading and other visual skills, but this post will focus on the ability to hear.

The expressive aspect of communication consists of all modes of putting out information—including writing and gesturing, but this post will focus on the ability to speak.

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As I write, my 17 year-old son is engaging in one his favorite hobbies: target practice. He fires, and he fires again. On and on, and every time I hear the loud gun, I am taken aback for a moment. It is loud and clear in my ears even inside the house, so for him, that sound is magnified.

My brothers used to fire away just like he is doing. It is a time-honored interest among many teenage boys. In 2017, however, there is one big difference: my son wears ear protection. My brothers didn’t.

Neither did my dad, who was exposed to loud machinery as a farmer, back in the pre-cab days. He paid the price with decreased hearing as he aged.

Neither did my husband, who was exposed to loud equipment as a builder for the last 30 years. He now wears ear protection, but he is paying the price for all those times he didn’t.

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Forty million is a large number. When it represents a group of people, it is a considerable segment of a population. In America, it represents the number of people who experience a communication deficit, either with expression through speech or reception through hearing.

Most of us simply open our mouths, and the words come out effortlessly. Our brains have already processed what we want to say, and the process is in motion. The end product is our speech.

The beginning is typically in response to our communication partner’s expression, or as a beginning of a conversation. It typically continues to be an exchange, a give-and-take, allowing each half of the conversation to express their ideas, hear the other person, and respond accordingly.

All this seems effortless—until it isn’t.

Those 40 million Americans have difficulty in speaking or hearing—or both. It is not effortless for them. In response to this struggle for a significant part of our population, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), designates the month of May as Better Hearing and Speech Month. In this effort to increase awareness of communication deficits and to help preserve them in others, a campaign is launched to bring attention to communication, both for those who struggle, as well as those who do not.

Making the general population aware of the many ways that communication can be preserved, or improved upon if it is deficient, are the goals of this campaign.

And there are many.

As the previous examples illustrate, protecting our hearing is of paramount importance. It wasn’t always, but the passage of time has taught many valuable lessons for people like my father the farmer and my husband the builder.

Another considerable professional group is musicians: the industry has come to realize the damage done to professional musicians hearing ability, specifically those who perform loud concerts. They, too, wear hearing protection now, not then.

Loud music can harm anyone’s ears as a listener; this cannot be ignored. As I type, I am listening to my favorite music on my tablet through headphones. I do enjoy it to a nice loud level, but I try to practice what I preach and keep it at a safe level. When I exercise, I wear ear buds to listen to my iPod. I keep the volume at a safe level then as well. This intensively directed music into one’s ears can cause even more damage, since it is so strongly concentrated directly into the ears.

“Listen to your buds.” This is the name of the ASHA campaign that is aimed specifically at children to increase their awareness of the need to keep the music at an acceptable level when listening through headphones or earbuds when using personal listening devices.

For more information regarding this campaign, see www.asha.org/buds.

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Technology continues to move fast, and texting on cell phones has become a preferred mode of communication. I have likely sent scores of messages today, you probably have too. Speaking into the phone to use the talk-to-text function is a capability that was unheard of even ten years ago; speech recognition is no longer exclusively a human function.

I don’t understand it, I just use it. But I do try to appreciate it.

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As mentioned above, there are ways to preserve or improve our communication. And, in honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month, here are some general ideas to improve communication, both expressive and receptive:

  • Be aware of your communication partner’s hearing status–especially with the elderly. Speaking a bit louder, slowing down and facing anyone who has trouble hearing can make the difference between understanding and NOT understanding.
  • Monitor your volume as you speak. Perhaps you are too loud, or maybe too soft. Don’t hesitate to ask your communication partner if your volume is appropriate for your interaction.
  • Speak to and respond to children as they develop their speech.
  • Discourage children from over-using their voices, such as yelling on the playground.
  • Drink plenty of water. It keeps the vocal cords supple and in good working order.
  • As mentioned earlier, protect your ears! Use ear protection when necessary.
  • Be aware of background noises when communicating: music, conversations between others, television sounds, traffic, wind, fans household noises and any other source that may interfere with others hearing your speech.
  • Understand that if a person has difficulty expressing themselves with speech, it does not necessarily mean they cannot understand you. This assumption is a travesty against those who are fully intact in their ability to understand, but suffer deficits in their expression due to a stroke, brain injury or brain cancer, some progressive diseases and other causes as well.

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For further information about Better Hearing and Speech Month, go to the American Speech-Language Hearing website at www.asha.org. If you are interested in finding out more about how communication disorders can be addressed by a licensed speech-language pathologist and/or audiologist, consult this website as well.