For young children every day is a journey of discovery. Using the five senses, children are navigating in a whirl of impressions, constantly learning and taking it all in. If one of the sensory organs is damaged, this can have an adverse effect on development if no intervention is undertaken. As the parent to a child with newly diagnosed hearing loss, many questions and concerns regarding hearing loss and intervention will appear.
EARLY DIAGNOSIS IS ALPHA-OMEGA
Neonatal hearing screening does not take long and is a completely painless and quick exam that clearly establishes the hearing health of a child to its parents. It should only be carried out after the baby is two days old, because immediately after birth there is often still amniotic fluid in the ears, which can skew the results. The procedure is easy to administer, reliable and causes absolutely no discomfort for the infant.
If your baby did not pass the neonatal hearing screening, or your older child is showing difficulty in hearing or speech development, you should consult a pediatrician, an ear-nose & throat specialist or a pediatric audiologist. A comprehensive audiological evaluation should be conducted by a pediatric audiologist.
The sooner hearing loss is discovered and effectively managed, the better are the prospects for your child and family. While babies with normal hearing develop the ability to sense sounds in the womb and are exposed to sounds and language immediately, babies born with hearing loss are deprived of auditory stimulation until the hearing loss is discovered and appropriately managed. Research shows that the earlier intervention is started, the better are the prospects for the child to develop at an age-appropriate rate. Because of all these reasons, early diagnosis is of paramount importance for you and your child.
The role of the audiologist
A pediatric audiologist is specialized in children’s ears and hearing. When your child has an audiological examination, the type and degree of hearing loss can be determined and a plan can be developed for follow-up and ongoing monitoring. When there is a significant hearing loss, rehabilitation options and hearing solutions can be discussed. The final decision on which interventions to choose for your child is yours. For infants and very young children, frequent visits to the audiologist are necessary in order to monitor the degree of hearing loss and adapt the intervention program so that it can benefit your child in the best possible way.
The potential of hearing solutions for your child
There are hearing aids and other technological hearing solutions specially designed for children with hearing loss. If correctly chosen and carefully fitted to the needs of your child, they offer significant benefit. Which hearing aids to choose will depend on various factors such as the age of your child, young children require devices for small ears and tamperproof solutions, and the degree of hearing loss, children with more severe to profound hearing loss require solutions that have more power to amplify sounds.
If a hearing aid does not offer sufficient help, a cochlear implant (CI) may be an effective choice. Generally speaking, children who are one year old and older with severe-profound hearing loss and may be candidates for this surgically implanted device.
Wireless microphone systems can be used to supplement hearing aids. The system includes a microphone worn by the child’s parent or teacher and a receiver fitted onto the child’s hearing aid. This system enables the child to clearly understand speech at a distance or in situations with loud background noise as for example in school or kindergarten.
As a parent it is important to know that unlike eyeglasses, which usually restore normal sight, neither hearing aids nor cochlear implants will restore the hearing of your child to normal levels. communication therapy is essential to help your child learn to make sense of or amplified sounds and speech signals his or her ears perceive. It takes time to learn to use a hearing aid consistently and success relies on therapeutic intervention as well.
The importance of hearing for your child’s speech development
There are different ways you can communicate with your child which range from auditory (listening) only all the way to visual (sign language) only. Regardless which path of communication you choose for your child with hearing loss, he or she must acquire a language to express her or his needs, desires and feeling. Children need to hear speech and imitate or practice in order to develop their own articulation. To discover the meanings of words and ultimately learn how to construct sentences they rely on this ability. However, children with hearing loss don’t perceive auditory stimuli to a sufficient extent or fail to respond to them at all. This lack of access can severely delay their language acquisition and may even prevent them from ever learning to speak. Deficiencies at this early stage of language development are extremely difficult to overcome later on in life.Children affected by hearing loss with limited means of communication can often experience problems with interpersonal communication and feel socially isolated. Together with hearing solutions, speech and/or music therapy plays a key role in enhancing their verbal and communication skills, ultimately helping your child’s speech to develop at an age-appropriate rate.
Mastering school life
There is no single “right” educational path for every child with permanent hearing loss. This is something that you as a parent should seek professional advice on. Parents are encouraged to seek the opinion of a pediatric audiologist, a pediatrician or an ENT physician. Hearing care support is also available from schools, state education and advisory centers, associations and self-help groups, among others, to help you make the best decisions for your child’s educational needs and future.