When children are little, parents explain about their child’s hearing loss. When someone asks “What are those things in his ears?”, parents say something like “those are his hearing aids, they help him hear better.” If children ask more questions, we might add something like “Some people wear eyeglasses to help them see better and some people wear hearing aids to help them hear better.” For most children, that is enough.
Children need to be able to advocate for themselves. This also means that they need to really understand their hearing losses.
When a child’s hearing loss is identified, we explain a lot to parents about what kind of hearing loss the child has, we discuss the fact that if the hearing loss is sensorineural it will not get better. We explain what it takes for a child to learn to listen and talk etc. Somehow, we do not always share that information with the children. If they are going to explain hearing loss they need to understand it.
What do kids need to understand about their hearing loss?
Kids need to understand what type and degree of hearing loss they have. For little kids, it’s enough to understand that they have a hearing loss but as kids get older they need to understand the degree and type. If the hearing loss is sensorineural, they need to understand that it will not get better. Because they see other kids with hearing technology but do not see adults with hearing technology, many kids think that the hearing loss will “go away”.
I remember the first time a little five year old asked me when he would be old enough not to need hearing aids. It made me rethink how I talked to kids about hearing loss. (That 5 year old is now a CI surgeon.)
It is not unusual for kids to ask a child with hearing loss what that stuff in his ear is. They need to have an answer. “This helps me hear better. “ or “These are my magic ears.” As kids get older more explanation may be needed. If the child is wearing hearing aids other kids may want to try to listen with them. (Only with a parent or audiologist standing by to protect the devices!!) It is great to show what kids hear with a remote microphone. Everyone can hear what happens when it is on and when it is off. This is a good way to demonstrate technology.
It is useful to talk about what a child is not hearing even with technology. Kids need to understand that EVERYONE has trouble hearing in noise – not just the kids with hearing loss. They need to know that no one can hear conversation across the room when it is noisy. They need to know what they can do to help them hear better and how to ask for help.
We need to explain that hearing technology does not fix all hearing problems in the way that eyeglasses do. Yes, the hearing technology we have is fabulous. But it is not perfect, at least not yet.
We need to help kids understand that it is okay to say “I didn’t hear you, can you please repeat?” We need to help kids understand what they need to improve if things are not clear. They can ask someone to “say it in a different way” if they have repeated it and it isn’t understandable. They can ask to have the lights turned on, or to close the door if it’s noisy in the hall, to move their seat, or to turn off the TV or radio. They can ask people to look at them when they talk and not to chew gum etc. This requires that the kids understand the things that are interfering with their ability to hear so they can get them corrected. This means parents need to talk about these issues at home and have the kids practice advocating for themselves.
Kids need to be able to answer basic questions
Why do you have a hearing loss? – It’s okay to say “I don’t know. Different kids have different things”
Will it get better? – “NO”
What do you hear with your hearing aids? – “I hear a lot of things but I have trouble hearing if it is noisy or if the person isn’t facing me”
Why can’t you wear your hearing aids in the water? – “It’s electronic like your iPad. If it get’s wet it will break”
Why do you get special help? – “Because of my hearing loss, sometimes I need extra help because I don’t always hear everything in the classroom.”
Other questions develop along the way. As they do, families need to discuss what are the appropriate answers. Kids need to understand that it’s okay for other kids to ask them questions and it’s okay for them to talk about it.
Hearing loss is not something to hide.