Aussie smart earbuds promise relief for children struggling in the classroom

Perth school boy Kai finds it easier to concentrate on the teacher's voice with Nuheara's IQbuds helping to compensate ...
Perth school boy Kai finds it easier to concentrate on the teacher's voice with Nuheara's IQbuds helping to compensate for his Auditory Processing Disorder. Photo: Supplied

Australian smart earbuds maker Nuheara has announced a university-backed trial to study the effectiveness of its noise-filtering IQbuds in assisting children on the Autism spectrum or with auditory processing difficulties.

The noise-cancelling wireless earbuds are designed to stream music from a mobile device via Bluetooth, but their built-in signal processing technology can also filter out ambient noise to help wearers who struggle to distinguish voices in noisy environments.

It's a condition colloquially known as "pub deafness" but Nuheara has preparing to embark on a university-backed pilot which may lead to research trials. The move is based on strong anecdotal evidence that Nuheara's noise-filtering technology offers relief to children who struggle at school due to difficulty listening and/or concentrating.

It's early days for Nuheara's buds as an assistive tool, and while the company has announced details of the trial it can't yet name the Australian university involved until its ethics committee gives the final sign-off, likely to happen later this month.

Perth primary school student Kai has been trialling Nuheara's IQbuds for several months to assist with concentration problems which have always seen him struggle in class and when socialising with other children. While eight year-old Kai has excellent hearing, last year he was diagnosed with an Auditory Processing Disorder which means that the teacher's voice gets lost in the noise of the classroom, says his mother Mel.

"We had numerous hearing tests which all came back clear, but Kai's teachers would tell us that he was a bright kid yet he didn't pay attention in class unless you dealt with him one on one," she says. "Now we know the fact is that, in a noisy environment, he has no idea that you're talking to him or it just sounds like you're mumbling."

An early childhood teacher, Mel came across Auditory Processing Disorders as part of her professional development program and made the connection. Once the diagnosis was confirmed, she was put in touch with Nuheara which offered IQbuds to trial.

The IQbuds offered immediate benefits to Kai, both in the classroom and out in public where he no longer covers his ears in noisy environments such as shopping centres. At school there has been a marked improvement in his comprehension and spelling results now that he can better hear the words, plus his improved hearing has helped with his anxiety, confidence and concentration issues.

"After his first day at school with the earbuds I asked Kai how it went and he said it was great, and it was also bad," Mel says.

"He said it was great because he could finally hear the teacher, but bad because now that he could hear the teacher he had to do what she said."

Nuheara's IQbuds began life as an Indiegogo crowdfunded project last June, raising more than $1 million from backers around the globe. It started shipping the smart earbuds to backers in January and they will go on sale to the general public in March, having recently achieved certification for sale in the US. The IQbuds can operate independent of a smartphone, with an all-day battery life, but the mobile app lets the user configure the noise filtering to allow for different environments from a classroom to a sports stadium.

While the IQbuds were not designed specifically to help people with concentration disorders, the experiences of Kai and other children using IQbuds have encouraged Nuheara to pursue university-backed research to confirm exactly what benefits the technology can offer, says Nuheara chief executive and co-founder Justin Miller.

Auditory Processing Disorders are twice as common amongst children as hearing loss, Miller says, yet they often go unrecognised until adulthood where terms like "pub deafness" can trivialise what is a serious medical issue. While the IQbuds clearly offer relief to adults who struggle to engage in conversation in noisy environments, Miller has also seen a transformation in some of the children he has encountered who suffer from a range of conditions from Auditory Processing Disorders to non-verbal Autism.

"The research we've got to date is the experience of these children and their parents, which is significant, but we want more definitive data which is why we're pursuing these trials," Miller says.

"We understand individuals and families who experience challenges such as Auditory Processing Disorder are often led down a rabbit hole of false solutions. This is why we are committed to completing pilot studies and developing research projects to validate the positive impact of assistive audio on people with concentration and hearing-related challenges."

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