I've been getting quite a few questions and comments regarding FM Systems and I thought I would elaborate a bit on our logic for wanting to avoid one if possible right now - as well as give some very basic information on FM systems.
I try not to offer too much technical information on my blog because, let's face it - I'm not an ENT, Audiologist or SLP. I know most of my readers are parents of CI Users or CI users themselves and I am quite confident the readers have excellent professional resources to get the information needed to make decisions for their children.
That being said, here is some basic information on FM systems and our thoughts on the matter. :)
The American Speech and Language association (ASHA) has a great page that talks about FM systems. The information is pretty basic, but gives a good overview, with a base of understanding to be more equipped to talk to their professionals.
We looked at three different options when first investigating FM systems: Personal FM System, Tabletop System, and Soundfields.
First: Personal FM Systems are just that: an FM system that communicates directly to the user through the hearing device (be it a CI or a Hearing Aid.) The teacher wears a microphone and his/her voice is fed directly to the user, thus helping to bypass acoustical problems or background classroom noise.
Generally, Personal Systems can be set up in one of two ways: Either the user gets only the FM feed, or a combination of both the feed and the background sound. Most users choose to go with the open option - where the background sound is still coming through.
Pros of Personal System: It is fairly discrete. It does not require very much in the way of additional equipment, thus hopefully reducing the additional stigma associated with being "different."
Cons of the Personal System: They are Personal. Meaning, only the user can tell if the system is working. This is especially of concern with toddlers and preschoolers because they cannot necessarily communicate problems. And there can be problems: radio interference, truck interference, static, etc.
Second: Table Top FM System: Like the Personal FM system, the teacher wears a microphone. But instead of the signal being fed directly to the HA or CI, the signal is fed to a small speaker placed on the child's desk.
Pros of the Tabletop System: The teacher can easily troubleshoot and confirm the sound quality from the unit.
Cons of The Tabletop System: I have yet to see a preschool where the children sit at a desk for any longer than 10 seconds (other than lunch, snack and craft time). Another con IMO is the "That Kid" stigma. We don't want Erin carting a little speaker around with her all day, further differentiating herself from the other kids. I know this may seem shallow and shortsighted, but we really hoped for a better option.
Third: FM Soundfield: "Soundfield" is a very fancy term for "speakers set around the room." The teacher wears a microphone and the sound is sent to speakers strategically placed around the room to amplify the teacher's voice for the entire class.
Pros of the Soundfield System: The system is very easy to troubleshoot and the teacher can quickly determine if there is feedback or interference. But, probably the very best Pro is that the system improves the listening environment for the entire class. There are so many studies that show classroom noise is an issue for hearing children as well as those that are hard of hearing. This is a great article on the subject, but doing a quick Google will give you quite a few more.
I have several friends who are teachers who first used Soundfields when having a HOH child in their classrooms, but they all found they quickly opted to keep the system on even with the HOH child was not in class. They are that helpful to the learning environment.
Cons of the Soundfield System: They are not as direct as a Personal FM System or Table Top Model. It is still critical that the HOH child is near a speaker to gain the most benefit from the system.
So... that's FM Systems 101 from my viewpoint. As with everything involving Toes, I did a ton of research, talked to her Audiologist and her SLP.
We basically came down to ranking our FM System wants to this order:
Then, after further discussions with Erin's professional support groups, it was ultimately decided that an FM system at this point in her education would probably do more harm than good. We would have to rely on a teacher (a busy teacher with many children in her charge) to know when and when not to use the microphone. If the teacher became distracted and forgot to turn off her mic after working with Toes, she would be subjected to very confusing inputs. She would end up spending time trying to sort this strange input rather than staying on task with what she was doing.
As much as I adore Erin's teachers, I have to be realistic about the ability to focus on her FM system needs while taking care of so many children. This was a decision we made when we opted to keep her in a private setting versus sending her to the local school system's preschool environment, where we would have some ability to hold the teachers' feet to the fire.
Of course, Erin's educational needs are in flux and always will be. If we find that she is missing significant portions of the teachers' instruction, we will need to re-evaluate and take different action if necessary. We're still awfully early in this process.
And, like Cloggy said... "The future's so bright... we've got to wear shades."