Each year, thousands of school-aged children and newborn babies are diagnosed with some degree of hearing loss. For many of these kids, hearing aids (or cochlear implants for kids with severe to profound hearing loss) will become the gateway to the world of sounds around them. The hearing aids will also deeply influence the development of their behavior, social skills and language abilities.
Despite the power of sound (just take a look at a video of a deaf child hearing for the first time) getting kids comfortable with wearing hearing aids can be challenging. These challenges change over time, particularly as children become more aware of how hearing aids can make them appear different from their friends and classmates.
Here are some ideas for parents to help their child adapt to their hearing aids and overcome some of the emotional and social discomfort of having hearing loss.
Children are typically fitted with behind the ear (BTE) devices because they are easy to care for, easy to adjust and more comfortable. BTE hearing aids also have the most flexibility to adapt and change as the child grows. BTE hearing aids are also easily pulled out by tiny fingers. There are a variety of ways to keep devices in, including two-sided toupee tape, lightweight caps and headbands, and hearing aid clips. Your child’s audiologist will usually have some other tricks up their sleeves to keep hearing aids in place.
School age children who are diagnosed with hearing loss for the first time may be more resistant to wearing hearing aids. One approach is to have your child wear the hearing aid during fun activities and then slowly increase the time until he is wearing it during all waking hours.
As children age, they typically become more aware that other kids aren’t wearing a hearing aid, and may experience feelings of shame, frustration or sadness. Help your child nurture relationships with children with and without hearing loss so that they can feel less alone. Books have endless examples of how kids with outward differences can achieve great things, and finding a story or a character that your child can relate to can help them feel better.
Teach your child how to respond to questions about their hearing aid so they won’t feel “on the spot” – and encourage them to ignore teasing. Generally kids question and tease what they don’t understand, so ask your child’s school if there would be an opportunity to educate classmates about hearing loss and hearing aids.
Language and social development are tied closely with hearing and kids with hearing loss typically receive intensive speech and language therapy. Even with therapy, these kids take longer to learn social cues that indicate when they have said or done something inappropriate. Parents can help kids have an easier time in social situations by regularly reinforcing how emotions match up with facial expressions and body posture.
As your child grows their hearing and their device will likely need to change with them. Involve your child in the process as much as possible, such as letting them select a fun color for their hearing aid and earmold or allowing the child to choose different stickers or decals to “decorate” the sides of their hearing aids.
No matter what their age – encouraging your child to wear their hearing aids consistently is the single best way you can help them reach key developmental milestones and grow their confidence.
Audiologists at Nationwide Children’s Hearing Program can provide additional ideas to help your child become more comfortable with their hearing aids. Nationwide Children’s also holds a regular educational series to help families who have a child with hearing loss.
Dr. Alecia Jayne received her AuD through the Northeast Ohio AuD Consortium in 2007 and joined the Nationwide Children's Hospital audiology team in 2008. Her interests include diagnostics, hearing aids, and cochlear implants.
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