I have been fortunate to have worked in this field long enough to have seen amazing changes. When I started more than 50 years ago, children where not identified until their parents observed that they were not developing speech and language. Usually at about 18 months. They were fit with hearing aids which provided limited benefit because they had limited frequency range and were not very powerful. Most schools did not have services to assist children who were in mainstream classes. There were no teachers of the deaf to assist with academics and no speech-pathologist who knew anything about hearing loss. Parents had to take thee children for services after school to get therapy. If they were not doing well in a mainstream setting, they could go into a self-contained class for children with hearing loss. Children in the mainstream struggled.
It’s a new world
Now babies with hearing loss are identified in the newborn nursery following newborn hearing screening. Those who do not pass the screening are referred for follow-up diagnostic testing and, if hearing loss is confirmed they are fit with hearing aids. They are immediately referred to therapy programs and can start to learn to listen and talk.
Technology is a whole lot better than it was when I started in this field. Hearing aids have a broader frequency range and are much more powerful. And if a child is not hearing well, we can move quickly to cochlear implants.
Today’s kids with hearing loss can hear
With today’s technology there is no reason why virtually every child with hearing loss should not be able to hear. It is the responsibility of the audiologist to be sure that the child is hearing. It is not okay to assume that a child with hearing loss is hearing well enough just because he has technology on. We really need to check. That means we need to get aided threshold for each ear separately and make sure that the child is hearing at the top of the string bean in each ear. And we need to test speech perception at normal and soft conversational levels in each ear separately, and in competing noise.
If we do not test each ear separately we are not going to be able to know if both ears are working well. I cannot tell you how many times I saw a child who was doing poorly in one ear but no one knew it because separate ears had not been tested.
Schools now have more services
While school services may not be perfect, They are definitely better then they were. Teachers of the Deaf are available to provide preview and review of academic material to assist children in keeping up with peers. Speech-language pathologists are available to provide listening, language, and speech production services to build skills and help kids manage in school.
85% of children with hearing loss are mainstreamed now, and they are succeeding!! They grow up to go to college and be whomever they want to be.
One of my wonderful young people said recently, “If I can overcome hearing loss, there is nothing in his world I cannot do.” And he is correct.
It’s not the same world
When we ask kids with hearing loss now, what they want people to know about growing up with a hearing loss they often have very little to say. They don’t think it is so awful. They would be happy not to have a hearing loss but they don’t see it as such a difficult thing to have to overcome. It is different than hearing loss was, 15 or 20 years ago. Early identification and new technology have made it a different world.