Hi friends, in case this looks familiar I posted this on a previous site a couple of years ago. Since that site is no longer active I thought I’d share it again. This was an interesting study and probably worth exploring more. 

The American Journal of Occupational Therapy published a study that showed that children with auditory processing disorder were better able to attend and listen in a classroom with a Frequency Modulation system (FM system), which amplifies the teacher’s voice.

What is auditory processing disorder?

Essentially it is difficulty understanding speech or discriminating sounds, especially if there is background noise. We say “essentially” because there is not clear diagnostic criteria and it is not a consistently recognized disorder (DeBonis, 2015).

Implications from the study

The findings of this study may be an important stepping stone to help children attend in the classroom. This may be a strategy helpful to children with learning and attention disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD, or for children with general language delays.

Can the school provide an FM system for my child?

Unfortunately, one study is probably not enough to expect the school to provide this for a child without a diagnosed hearing impairment, especially considering the expense of FM systems (which average around $800) and the challenge of incorporating it into the classroom by the teacher. Lack of consistent recognition of auditory processing disorder adds another barrier to implementation in the schools.

Are there low or lower-tech options that may help?

  • Personal amplifiers may be able to provide a similar effect at a significantly reduced cost. However, don’t expect the school to cover the cost of this until there is more evidence that it is effective. (You can buy one for about $30.) We would be interested in hearing from anyone who has tried this and whether it is effective.
  • Noise reduction headphones can filter out some noise.
  • Some children do well when they have an MP3 player with headphones while doing work. The consistency of a rhythm in their ear may be less distracting than the unpredictable noises in the background.
  • The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) has guidelines for acoustics in the classroom though these criteria are rarely met (ASHA, 2000-2003). Parents and therapists can help with implementation of their recommendations and standards. Many of the recommendations can be easily implemented at a low cost, and we may need to remind administrators to consider the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that some of these changes are necessary to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The ASHA document explains these issues well.

Some of their recommendations:

Address External Noise:

Add landscaping outside classrooms and maintain the building so that it is free from cracks.

Address Internal Noise:

*Suspend things such as banners and plants from the ceiling to reduce noise (make sure to consider fire codes and whether this is allowed in your school)

*Use carpeting, especially over a pad

*Use curtains or acoustically treated blinds or shades on the windows

*Use cork, felt or flannel bulletin boards on the walls and doors

*Use tennis balls on the chair legs to reduce noise

*Keep whole group instructional areas away from HVAC noise, doorways, etc.

*Stagger seating

*Use lamps or other non-fluorescent lighting to avoid the hum of the overhead lights, repair light bulbs promptly (this also helps children with visual sensitivities)

*Place rubber pads or acoustic fabric under computers and on study carrels and on tables where there may be noisy toys.

This is not an area that is frequently addressed by schools, including school-based therapists. While we may not be ready to make the leap to start using FM systems as a universal design strategy, we have other changes we can consider making to help children whose learning is affected by noise in and around the classroom.



DeBonis, D. (2015). It Is Time to Rethink Central Auditory Processing Disorder Protocols for School-Aged Children. American Journal of Audiology (Online), 24.2, 124-136.

Reynolds, Kuhaneck, Pfeiffer (2016). Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Frequency Modulation Devices in Improving Academic Outcomes in Children With Auditory Processing Disorders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 7001, 220030p1- 220030p11