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The Role of Acoustics for Neurodiverse Students

Whether you fall under the neurodivergent or neurotypical spectrum, there’s a profound connection between sounds and the human mind. While music has the power to evoke emotions and loud noises may cause discomfort for everyone, the way we process and respond to these stimuli can vary significantly.

For those people who are neurotypical filtering out noise and responding to only necessary auditory sounds, such as speech, comes naturally, but for others making sense of the auditory world around them and deciphering between different sounds is difficult and can cause sensory overload and distress.

When it comes to acoustics in schools a joint study by the University’s Institute of Education and the South Bank University of 2000 school children, aged 7-10, found that noise levels influence children’s performance and can adversely affect national test results; in fact, exam results were cut by as much as a third if the child had been taught in a noisy classroom.

Therefore it's been proven that the way sound travels and is perceived has a direct impact on academic achievement and that background noise from inside and outside the classroom negatively affects learning, especially for neurodivergent students who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension.

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, and other sensory processing disorders. Comprehension and communication are important for development and learning. Speech is made up of many sounds, including consonants and vowels, and understanding speech is a complex process. As we age, we tend to have trouble in hearing vowel sounds. Nonetheless, for those who are neurotypical, our knowledge and lifetime experience often enable us to fill in any gaps and understand what is being conveyed. However, individuals who are neurodivergent may struggle even more as they may lack the necessary experience and skills to decipher the intended message. As a result, their comprehension and communication abilities can become more challenging.

Sounds and noise travel in different ways. Sound reflection and reverberation is the movement of sound waves within a room whilst sound absorption refers to the process by which sound energy is converted into heat energy or dissipates as it passes through a given material. Various materials like carpets can absorb sound waves and reduce the reflective effects of sound, therefore minimising echoes and reverberations.

One of the key considerations in creating an optimal acoustic environment is reducing the overall noise level. High levels of background noise can be overwhelming for neurodivergent students, causing distractions, and hindering their ability to focus. Implementing sound-absorbing materials, such as acoustic panels and carpets, can help to mitigate excessive noise and create a more tranquil atmosphere. These materials absorb and dampen sound, reducing reverberation and creating a calmer learning environment.

In addition to reducing noise levels, it is essential to minimise sound reflections and echoes within classrooms. Excessive reverberation can make it challenging for neurodivergent students to understand spoken instructions and differentiate between sounds, leading to confusion and frustration. Acoustic treatments such as curtains, carpets, and acoustic ceiling tiles can help to absorb sound reflections and minimise echoes, improving speech intelligibility and enhancing communication for neurodiverse students.

When it comes to children on the autistic spectrum acoustics has been acknowledged as one of the most influential features of the sensory environment. Some research suggests that by reducing noise levels and echoes in educational settings for children with autism, attention spans, response times and behavioural temperament can be massively improved. In fact, Dr Magda Mostafa founder of the Autism ASPECTSS Design Index, found that an individual’s attention span could be tripled and a decrease of 60% in response time and self-stimulatory behaviour can be achieved in an acoustically sound environment.

Mostafa recommends that the acoustical environments, for those on the spectrum, should be controlled to minimise background noise, echoes and sound reverberation. Carpet is naturally an outstanding sound-absorptive material. No other acoustical material performs the dual role of a floor covering and a versatile acoustical aid. A commercial grade carpet which is specifically manufactured for schools or for multi-dwelling properties can absorb airborne noise as efficiently as many specialist acoustical materials.

Furthermore, involving neurodiverse students in the design and decision-making process can bring valuable insights and perspectives. Seeking their feedback and preferences regarding the acoustic environment can empower them, ultimately leading to a more inclusive and accommodating learning space.

By prioritising acoustics and implementing appropriate design strategies, schools can create supportive and inclusive learning environments for neurodiverse students. A well-designed acoustic environment can minimise distractions, enhance communication, and improve overall concentration and learning outcomes.

It is our collective responsibility to embrace the unique needs of all students and ensure that every individual has equal opportunities to thrive within the educational system.

View our range of carpets suitable for education environments to find out more.

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