When we describe hearing loss we usually only report one thing: “He has a mild hearing loss” or “She has a profound hearing loss.” But the situation is much more complex than that. Hearing loss is frequently different in each ear. It is not unusual for a child to have a moderate hearing loss in one ear and a severe hearing loss in the other. How do we describe that child’s hearing? And how do we decide what should happen with technology?
Selecting hearing aids
It is perfectly reasonable for a family to want a child to have two hearing aids that look the same. It would appear weird for a kid to have a small hearing aid on one ear and a big one on the other. With eyeglasses, we can have very different vision yet no one would know it because our lenses look the same. Not so with hearing aids. Sometimes we can get hearing aids with different power needs that are in the same case. However, sometimes, in order to provide real accessibility to a child we need different hearing aids. We really need to be careful not to get stuck on what the aids look like and think ONLY about how they work.
Fitting each ear
Hearing aids should be selected for each ear separately. If they look as if they match, good. If not, also good. And hearing aid settings should be set for each ear separately. Only by looking at each ear alone are we capable of providing the auditory access that kids need for each ear.
Most people think of a cochlear implant only when a child has poor hearing in both ears. But what about the child who has a moderately severe hearing loss in one ear and does well with a hearing aid in that ear, and has a profound hearing loss in the other ear and does very poorly with a hearing aid in that ear. Should that child get a cochlear implant for the poorer ear? I would say, definitely YES!!! If we do not fit the poorer ear with a CI, that ear will really not function. It will not really contribute to the child’s speech perception abilities, nor help much in noise or in localization. So why not make things better?
Look at each ear!
If we look at each ear separately, we can make a decision about how to maximize a child’s auditory development that results in language and literacy development. So let’s try to reconsider what we do and look at what each ear needs and fit that way. More kids will benefit if we can do this.