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By Robyn DiPietro-Wells, Ed.M.

By Robyn DiPietro-Wells

In early September 2003 in Fayetteville, NC near Fort Bragg, my dogs and I were waiting out Hurricane Isabel. Being approximately 90 miles inland we didn’t need to evacuate and instead spent the day napping on the couch waiting for the weather to clear.  At some point a loud crash rattled the house causing the dogs to bark.  My very first thought was, “That’s strange. Why would they be firing artillery during a hurricane?”  However, a few minutes later, I remembered my dogs never barked at artillery fire, so what was that loud crash? I went to our back window and saw a huge tree had fallen from the neighbor’s property into our yard, crushing our fence but missing our house. It was then I realized I was so accustomed to the noise of military life that I didn’t even think a crashing noise in the midst of a hurricane was anything but business as usual!

Families around the globe, living in a variety of situations, deal with noise pollution all the time. A quick GoogleTM search for the definition of noise pollution and you will find that it is “harmful or annoying levels of noise, as from airplanes, industry, etc.” Living near an airport, a police or fire station, train tracks, or even in a busy city exposes families to noise pollution. However, military families living on or near an installation, even in remote locations, can also experience this as well. Our home was roughly 13 miles from the heart of Fort Bragg yet we also experienced blasts that shook our home.

How does noise pollution affect children? How does it affect children with disabilities? Are those effects any different when the noises are coming from explosions or aircraft? Many military families report that most children get used to these noises the same way adults do. For some children who are new to an installation with many explosions they might startle, duck under their desks, or try to hide at first. However, with time they adapt. Some children develop a keen awareness and can tell the difference between a bombing run, sonic boom, an airplane on a flight path, and thunder. Other children find the noises exciting, especially when it comes from an airplane. They may want to look out the window or go outside because they imagine that one of their parents might be on that plane. For most military children, they learn early what the noises are and they adapt.

For others, including some children with disabilities, these noises can be downright terrifying.   For children with anxiety or sensory disorders, it can be very scary, especially at times when a parent is deployed. The child may become very scared because they are too young to understand how far away combat is or from where the noise is coming. One military mother reported that her daughter, who has an anxiety disorder, “would just scream and scream. And it keeps you up at night and breaks your dishes.” While a lot of families adapt to the noise, for many of the families with whom practitioners work this kind of noise pollution is a daily intrusion into the family’s life and overall well-being.

How can you as an Early Interventionist or Early Childhood Special Educator support families and children like those described? What things do you as a practitioner need to know and understand to better serve these populations? The webinar Social Emotional Development in the Early Years: Creating Supportive and Inclusive Environments discusses inclusive and supportive environments. Noise pollution is one of the many issues the presenters touch on.

Image from Flickr, Fire Support Certification Exercise, by The U.S. Army, CC BY 2.0