A parent’s responsibility while raising children is a never-ending task. From their health to their education from their social skills to providing a nurturing and safe environment, there is so much to do!
One issue that is so often overlooked is how our children hear. Our hearing connects us to the world around us and it is only through the ears of a child that they learn how to speak and how to listen, develop social skills, and build relationships. At school, what they hear and what they listen to can propel them to a brilliant career or a life of manual labor.
The earlier hearing loss is diagnosed and treated the more chance the child has of successfully adapting to amplification and developing good speech and language skills as well as having healthy social relationships.
Some warning signs of hearing loss that parents can look out for are:
Birth – 2 years old
• Chronic ear infections
• Constant pulling or tugging at the ears
• Not responding to loud noises around them
2 – 5 years old
• Delayed speech development
• Speech that is mushy and unclear
• No response to being called by name
• Excessively loud speech
5 – 12 years old
• Slurring of speech
• Excessive volume on TV or radio
• Difficulty hearing in the car
• Declining grades at school
• Excessive volume levels in TV or speaking
• Declining grades in school
• Increased social isolation
Any of the above red flags or a failed hearing test at school indicates the need for an in depth hearing exam. The hearing exam should include pure tone testing (hear the beep, hit the button), as well as speech testing. These tests can be performed by an audiologist or hearing aid specialist. Children under the age of 5 require specialized equipment and should be seen by a pediatric specialist.
Once a child has been diagnosed with hearing loss there are many questions that need to be answered. First, it is important to understand what type of hearing loss your child has. The two types are conductive and sensorineural.
Conductive hearing loss is a problem with the mechanics of the ear and may be temporary. For example, too much ear wax in the ear canal can block the sound from getting to the eardrum causing some hearing loss. Most conductive losses can be treated through an office procedure, medication or an operation.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and happens in the inner ear in the cochlea. Each cochlea has thousands of hair cells that send the hearing signal to the brain. If these hair cells are damaged or never form, there is no way for the sound waves to be transmitted (in part or in whole) to the brain. A Sensorineural loss will most often be treated with hearing aids. Hearing aids should be worn all waking hours and it will only take a couple of weeks for your child to adapt to this improved hearing. They will need you to cheer them on in their new sense of hearing as it will be different and difficult in the beginning. Once they have adapted to hearing they will appreciate the ease of hearing they receive from their devices.
In the case of deafness (no measure of hearing), cochlear implants and lip reading classes will be top on the list of treatments.
If your child has good hearing, it is important to keep their hearing healthy and to help them develop good listening habits. Ear level devices like I-Pods or MP3 players when used with headphones can be very detrimental to your child’s long-term hearing health. Teach the 60/60 rule: all ear level devices should be used at no more than 60% of the available volume for no more than 60 minutes. Never allow your child to sleep with devices in their ears.
Because of the wide spread use of social media and texting, more children than ever before are not developing good listening and communication skills. Consider having technology blackout periods in your home where communication is achieved verbally. It is unhealthy for all humans, even more so for the developing brain of a child to spend a large amount of time listening to recorded auditory signals. This has become known as schizophonia, it is a dislocation between what we hear and what we see. This is leading to a culture disconnected from the immediate world around them. Depression, anxiety and poor communication skills can be the result. Model good listening skills to your children and teach them to listen to the world around them.
Finally, teach your children about hearing loss. Currently 5% of teenagers entering college have permanent hearing loss. This number is up significantly in the last decade, meaning that more and more people are wearing hearing aids all the time. Whether it is a classmate, a family member or a future boss, someone wearing hearing aids is invested in communicating with the world around them and should be respected for this effort. Hearing aids don’t restore hearing to perfect so it helps to understand how to best communicate with a hearing aid wearer. Try to talk to them face to face, don’t cover your face with your hand and try to talk distinctly. You don’t have to talk louder; the hearing aid is already amplifying your voice. If a grandparent wears hearing aids, let your children know that as we age our brains ability to process speech slows down so slowing down the rate at which we talk can be helpful.
Your child’s development both socially and academically is dependent on healthy hearing. Take time today to listen together to the world around you.
Melissa Kay Rodriguez, BC-HIS, literally grew up in the hearing aid business. The daughter of a Beltone dispenser, she obtained her license to fit hearing aids soon after graduating from high school. She earned her National Board Certification in 1995. Currently, she is owner of Hear On Earth Hearing Care Center in El Paso, TX. Rodriguez has been a member of the board of the Texas Hearing Aid Association and served a six-year term on the Texas Governing Board, which regulates the fitting and dispensing of hearing aids in her state. She is an active volunteer with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and has gone on numerous humanitarian missions to fit hearing aids in Juarez and Mexico City, Mexico, and in Peru, among other locations. She is a member of the International Hearing Society, the Texas Hearing Aid Association, and eWomenNetwork. She is the author of the new book, “Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss.” For information on the book, go to www.hearwithmelissa.com.