Posted on Monday, April 23, 2012

Children and Hearing Loss: The Importance of Hearing Aids

Teddy bears whispering about hearing loss in children.

The 24,000 babies born each year with hearing loss are only a portion of the children living with hearing loss every day. Childhood hearing loss is the number one birth defect in the United States, and is also on the rise among children and adolescents. Childhood hearing loss can cause the same kind of emotional stress and isolation as adult hearing loss. Extra care must be taken to help children understand the importance of wearing hearing aids. Not only because they are learning to speak, communicate, and get cues from the world, but because auditory parts of the brain can cease working without the sound impulses delivered through hearing aids.

Deficits in language skills and the average cognitive markers for childhood development are problems that can be worsened if a child does not use his or her hearing aid.

It's important that kids with hearing loss, even hearing loss in one ear (unilateral hearing loss), wear hearing aids. Studies show the use of hearing aids keeps the mind healthy, results in better self-esteem, and helps children achieve developmental markers. As educators at MSU, point out, “numerous studies have shown improvement in attention, understanding directions, classroom participation and school behavior” when fitted with a hearing device. Studies now show with proper and early intervention, children with hearing loss can grow up to be as successful and happy as they would have been without hearing loss. So how do you keep your baby, child, or adolescent wearing hearing aids?

Tips to Help Keep Children from Removing or not Using Hearing Aids

Create Goals: As with adults adjusting to wearing hearing aids can be difficult. Children need to work up to having them on for longer periods of time and work up to the steps necessary to be more independent with them. If a child is just starting out using hearing aids don't expect them to be able to wear them all day. Help them get used to the aids by letting them wear them for longer and longer periods. And have them use their hearing aids in situations with less background noise. Restaurants in particular can be a difficult listening environment. Help children keep track of hearing aid achievements and goals in regards to self-advocacy and independence.

Keep Them Listening: A child that is engaged with music, conversation, or a communication activity is more likely to forget about their hearing aids and to begin to internalize the benefits of wearing hearing aids. Communicating with a child who has hearing loss is a challenging process, but as you reach out to them, they adapt and learn how best to communicate with others. Hard of hearing people have many skills and are more adaptable than the average person. Helping your child to learn these communication skills will give them a lifetime of independence. And don't be shy about getting family members to help out. Here's a great pdf from Dr. Neil Bauman of the Center for Hearing Loss Help to hand out to family members. Remember sound stimulates the brain and helps a child to better understand their world, so keep them listening.

Use Accessories/Younger Children: Hearing aids are advanced technologies that cost money. Obviously, you don't want your child to lose them, but what if he or she is not old enough to understand the impact of removing it? For younger children and toddlers Huggie Aids can keep the hearing aid in place, or try tying a bit of fishing line from the aid to a pin attached to the back of their shirt.

Use Accessories/Older Children: Assistive listening devices in the classroom can make an older child's experience with hearing aids less frustrating. Normal classroom acoustics can inhibit listening technologies. Older children, adolescents, can be embarrassed about using an ALD in the classroom. In this case, get the teacher on your side in helping to make ALD use inconspicuous and have your child help pick out the system that they are most comfortable using.

Contact: Children with hearing loss, from infants to adolescents, have been shown to do adjust better to their hearing loss and wearing hearing aids when they are around others who have hearing loss. Children like to fit in, feel like everyone else, so the idea that they might seem different by using a hearing aid can be frightening. Once children realize that there are many people like them with hearing loss, they will begin to become more at ease with their hearing challenges and the importance of wearing hearing aids. Support groups help not only children, but the adults in their lives.

Patience: As the Better Hearing Institute notes, “There is a common misconception that hearing aids are the "cure all" for hearing loss. In reality, improving communication involves a long term rehabilitative process in which the hearing aid is only part." Taking time to learn to properly communicate with hearing aids is especially true of children with hearing loss. Make sure to include techniques like pausing to allow your child to process what you've said and allowing a suitable amount of time for them to answer before repeating yourself. As quoted on Baby Hearing.org, "Parents, siblings, and relatives have to get down on the level of this child and put themselves in his shoes and not always expect quick results."

Stay Involved: Using hearing aids has been shown to improve self-esteem, so the mindset that a child will feel less included because of hearing aids is false. That is not to say children do not experience bullying by children who see them as different. It simply means that the experiences they have with hearing aids promotes a healthier self-esteem than without hearing aids. In fact, kids with any kind of disability are more likely to be bullied. That's why it's best to stay involved with your child's school, keep up on weekly activities, and begin communication with the teacher. As one parent on Babyhearing.org pointed out, "You have to intercede on their behalf more, because their 'disability' isn't obvious." Here is an article on children and bullying that might also help.

It is as important to have your child use hearing aids as it is to have them uses glasses to correct faulty vision. Hearing loss and the myriad of condition associated with untreated hearing loss can spiral into bigger problems if not corrected early. As Clarke Schools points out on their website, "Talk to your pediatrician or audiologist about hearing aids for your child sooner rather than later." Children learn from everything in their environment, so making sure they have as much auditory stimulation as possible will ensure that they have a wider balance in their daily experiences. If you have yet to find help for your child or want to learn more about the latest advances in hearing aids or ALD to help support your child's learning experience, click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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