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Microphones: Classroom Solution for ADHD, APD, LD, and “Typical” Students?

An Iowa public school is testing out voice amplification systems, or microphones, for teachers and students to use to improve communication and focus. Results from this pilot program and other studies indicate that these devices may improve student performance, behavior, and more.

As the mother of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, it’s natural that, while scanning a recent issue of the Des Moines Register, the word “attention” in a headline caught mine. According to the article, “Des Moines teachers get attention with microphones in class,” George Washington Carver Community School, an elementary school in Des Moines, Iowa, is trying out new voice amplification systems in a few classrooms.

In the pilot program, the teacher wears a small microphone, and speakers are placed strategically around the room. Students can also use an additional microphone when they address the class. The idea is that in order to learn effectively, students must be able to hear clearly.

Students with ADHD tend to be easily distracted by sounds in the environment that those of us without the disorder unconsciously filter out. It’s logical that amplifying the teachers’ voice would help the ADHD brain isolate that sound from among all of the competing sounds in the environment. Apparently, helping the brain decide what to focus on is helpful to “typical” kids too!

How Classroom Microphones Help

In an ideal classroom setup, every student would sit within six feet of the teacher, according to “Improving the Classroom Environment: Classroom Audio Technology,” a report written by Christie Blazer, senior research analyst for the Office of Accountability and Systemwide Performance for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, based on studies conducted in this school system.

Given the realities of classroom sizes, this proximity possible. So, if you can’t bring the students close enough to the teacher, why not take the teacher’s voice to the students — via amplification? According to the Des Moines Register article, doing so has been shown to increase student achievement, reduce discipline problems, help English-language learners to do better in school — even raise the attendance rates of teachers! Sounds great (don’t miss that subtle pun!), doesn’t it?

I love the idea of anything that might help our kids with ADHD or learning disabilities to succeed in school — without singling them out as different, and this technology seems ripe with that potential, since it targets all students in general education classrooms.

Why Students with ADHD, LD, and APD Might Benefit from Microphones in the Classroom

While the product’s efficacy hasn’t been researched for kids with ADHD specifically, according to Rick Thielsen, a Classroom Audio Consultant for Lightspeed Technologies, Inc., the maker of the “microphone for teachers,” in my lay opinion, it seems custom-made for our kids! After all, a common accommodation found in ADHD kids’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) is preferential seating near the teacher, away from potential distractions. I’d love to see my daughter Natalie’s school give it a try.

The fact that a similar system is already in use with children with auditory processing disorder (APD), a condition that often accompanies ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and dyslexia, lends credence to my theory. Children with APD typically have ordinary hearing and intelligence, but have trouble distinguishing, interpreting, and processing the sounds they hear, leading to problems with attention and memory. In the classroom, kids with APD exhibit difficulty with reading, comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary. Individual voice amplification systems, sometimes called auditory trainers, broadcast the teacher’s voice, via a microphone, to such an individual student, through a headset.

When “Special Needs” Children Don’t Want to Feel “Special”

While it’s important to teach kids to accept and celebrate others’ unique characteristics, there will always be some children who are sensitive about their individual differences. Natalie is certainly a member of this group. She hates it when her peers ask why she uses fidgets in school, or why she’s allowed to chew gum when no one else is.

Natalie is not alone. My friend, ADHD blogger Penny Williams, shared, in a recent e-mail exchange, that her son, Luke, feels the same way. “His 504 Plan specifies that he can use different tools like special writing paper, fidgets, and chewing gum, but he refuses to implement them. He doesn’t want to be different than his classmates. I’ve even gone so far as to purchase the special writing paper in spiral notebook form so it is very similar to his classmates’ paper, but he’ll have nothing to do with it. You’d think a child who was allowed to chew gum in school would take full advantage, especially a child who loves gum as much as Luke, but he just doesn’t want to be different.”

I also spoke recently with Jo Aukes, a special education teacher in Ankeny, Iowa about another assistive technology product (Hint: An exciting new giveaway is coming to this blog soon, so visit often!). Jo also emphasized how important it is to respect students by keeping strategies or accommodations unobtrusive whenever possible.

Does your child’s school utilize a voice amplification system? Does your child benefit from an individual voice amplification system to help with auditory processing disorder, and if so, would a whole-class system help, without singling him out? Does your child refuse accommodations that make her feel different from others? What whole-class strategies do you know of that help our kids without separating them from peers? Continue the discussion by commenting below.