Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Autism Spectrum Disorder & classroom noise

Autistic and some gifted children are among the most severely affected by noise, a study in early education by Massey University has revealed today.
What other children perceive as normal noise can be intensely intense and painful, eroding their ability to communicate and learn.
Stuart McLaren, senior lecturer in health science at the Wellington campus, says researchers will investigate strategies to help those affected.
The wide range of noises affecting autistic and gifted children include general classroom noise, school bells, machine noise from fans, vaccum cleaners and lawn mowing – and unexpected noises such as dogs barking and road works.
Along with young children in general, the study examined groups of children with special education needs.
They also included Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome, ADHD and the hearing impaired.
While all the special needs groups were seriously affected by noise, the effects on autistic children were far more severe.
"We wish to highlight the serious nature of early childhood centre noise," says Mr McLaren.
"While their hearing may be normal, autistic children process auditory information differently. What others perceive as normal and tolerable can be extremely intense and painful to them.
"It causes them pain, distress and confusion. . .and it erodes their ability to communicate and learn."
Providing quiet spaces is one way to help autistic and gifted children, and researchers will investigate other strategies.
"Much of the present work is focused on these children being integrated into regular early childhood education environments. However we must look more closely at the learning environment too," says Mr McLaren.
"Why is it acceptable to expect autistic children to negotiate their way around any such environment when we never expect children with physical disabilities to negotiate their way up a flight of steps?"