Research indicates that frequent exposure to noisy environments increases susceptibility to experiencing problems with cognitive function, stress and blood pressure. A majority of people on the autistic spectrum are hypersensitive to sound, with some research suggesting that acoustics have a significant influence on behaviour.

This webinar discussed why acoustics are important in both special education needs (SEN) and mainstream settings, and ways to achieve better noise levels and reverberation times.


Why are Acoustics Important and to Whom?

Adjusting acoustics, particularly in SEN settings where sensitivity to noise is heightened, helps to ensure that those with disabilities are not disadvantaged or excluded from experiencing quality learning and enhanced well-being. Saying this, 6% of pupils in mainstream schools are considered to have special hearing and communication needs (SHCN), emphasising the importance of good acoustics in every setting. Research was conducted by Anderson Acoustics which explored 50 years’ worth of studies measuring subjective speech-based perception in varied acoustic environments. Regardless of differences in measures and conditions, the inherent listening gap (ideal acoustic conditions which prevent echoing) remained a problem across the research. The Building Bulletin 93 helps to set out acoustic design standards for schools. It recognises that acoustic design can impact diverse needs from speech, hearing and communication needs to autism to visual impairments to those who use English as an additional language. It is therefore important to reduce reverberation time and maximise signal-to-noise ratio. However this can be difficult to achieve. Classroom size and height contribute to this, as well as budget constraints.

Methods for Addressing Acoustics

Classroom design, technology and assistive devices which control reverberation time and non-acoustic factors can positively influence learning experiences. Some hearing aid devices have reduced dynamic range. When this is too high, it can make sounds appear distorted and consequently distracting. Therefore, other practical solutions should be implemented. Classroom management significantly influences the signal-to-noise ratio. If a teacher is far or looking away from the class this can adversely impact those with SHCN. Further, it is beneficial to ensure that the volume and direction of noise comes from a similar pitch and place. For instance, it can be disorientating hearing a teacher speak at the front of the classroom, but the answer being expressed from the back. Smaller groups working closely together can assist in tackling these communication difficulties. This form of collaboration is often utilised in SEN schools with an increased teacher-to-student ratio. Addressing background noise is also crucial. Projector, computer or ventilation systems can cause distress and challenges for some young people, as fans can generate distracting background noise. However, some technological solutions have been facilitated to resolve these problems.

There is often emphasis on the importance of lighting and ventilation in school settings. While these are essential to learning environments, the significance of acoustics should not be undermined.