Receiving a diagnosis of hearing loss from your child’s audiologist can be overwhelming. With 90% of deaf children born to hearing parents, this diagnosis is oftentimes a first exposure to unfamiliar territory. As you work to identify the best supports and resources for your child, it is important to ask the right questions. The more educated you are about your child’s communication needs and hearing loss, the better equipped you are to advocate for him or her in school and in the larger community.
What Should You Ask an Audiologist After Receiving a Diagnosis of Hearing Loss?
When parents first receive their child’s diagnosis their minds are often swirling with a number of questions to ask. Some of the most common questions our audiologists are asked are:
· What degree of hearing loss does my child have?
· How will lack of hearing impact my child’s language development?
· Will my child’s degree of hearing improve over time?
· Is there a way to correct my child’s loss of hearing?
· What does my child need in order to hear?
Getting answers to these fundamental questions helps parents to identify the supports and resources that will be most beneficial for their children.
How Will Loss of Hearing Impact My Child’s Language Development?
Regardless of whether hearing aids, cochlear implants, visual language such as ASL or a combination of the above are the right solution for your child, it is important to remember that the human brain is meant to be stimulated from an early age so access to early language is critical for your child’s development. Much like parents of hearing children, parents of deaf or hard of hearing children have a great opportunity to be their children’s teacher and help them learn about the world around them. Something as simple as narrating daily tasks – bedtime routines, shopping, pet care, etc. – can provide a powerful learning opportunity.
Should I Get a Hearing Assistive Technology Such as Hearing Aids for My Child?
For some children, hearing assistive technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants can be beneficial. When vetting your options be sure to find out:
· What is the difference between the proposed solutions?
· How does the device/do the devices work?
· Who pays for the device (insurance, out of pocket expense, etc.)?
Understanding the type and degree of your child’s hearing loss, along with the expert guidance of an audiologist, will help to identify the best solution. If it is determined that hearing aids can help your child, remember that wearing them consistently is important. The more often they wear them, the more opportunity they have to acquire language.
Can My Child Benefit from a Cochlear Implant?
For some children who cannot adequately access speech through hearing aids, a cochlear implant may provide another option. Cochlear implants are not a universal solution for deaf and hard of hearing children as some children are born with malformed cochleas or without cochleas, or there may be other restrictive health conditions that may make any surgery with anesthesia risky (i.e. medically fragile children or children with serious heart defects). For children who are deemed a “right fit” for cochlear implants, it is recommended that the device be connected by the time they turn two-and-a-half-years-old so that they can achieve similar auditory language levels as their hearing peers by the time they enter kindergarten. Children who receive cochlear implants at later ages can suffer from the impact of auditory language deprivation that is, unfortunately, common among deaf children. Keep in mind that the success of a cochlear implant is also largely dependent on a child’s cognitive abilities.
Should I Teach My Child American Sign Language?
While some individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing use sign language as their primary method of communication, others use it as a secondary form of communication. And, some families even opt for their hearing babies to learn sign language so that they have an early method of communication before spoken language has been developed. While the choice is personal to each family, many children thrive after learning sign language and gaining a way to communicate with their family and peers. And, learning sign language early stimulates the language centers of the brain. Lastly, children who are non-verbal and faced with the dual diagnosis of hearing loss and an intellectual or developmental disability, in particular, often benefit greatly from visual language.
For many parents of deaf and hard of hearing children, an audiologist is one of the first specialists with whom they interact. In addition to providing an assessment of your child’s hearing abilities, they are a resource who can help to educate you on additional learning resources and supports that may help your child to build strong communication skills that will benefit him or her at-home, in the classroom and in the community.