Have you gotten tearful calls from parents who learned their children have hearing loss? If so, you can take an active role in ensuring their kids experience a brighter future by providing them timely hearing care. Early intervention is crucial, so reassure parents that by addressing hearing loss right away, they are helping their children get on track for optimal sound stimulation during their critical speech-language development years. And, your role as a hearing care provider is vital in helping families through this process.
When parents find out their child has a hearing loss, it is a surprising blow. Studies show that most children with hearing loss are born to parents with normal hearing, and the parents undergo several stages of “grief” in response to a child’s hearing loss diagnosis, cycling through stages of shock and denial to mourning, and then “constructive action.” Parents and guardians may worry how they will afford hearing aids and the care that goes with them. Financing options, such as the CareCredit credit card, can help families budget costs and ensure kids get the treatment they need as soon as possible. Early treatment means kids don’t lag behind their peers in academics, development, and social achievement.
Advising families how to approach hearing care for kids
“The key to successful integration of hearing loss into a family is the degree to which parents are able to integrate hearing loss into their lives,” said David Luterman, DEd, in an interview with the American Academy of Audiology. Luterman spent more than 50 years counseling parents and guardians on hearing loss in children. “If hearing is seen as a tragedy and terrible loss, the family system will be continually assaulted by negative emotions,” added Luterman. “However, if it is treated as a teacher for everyone and the positive aspects of hearing loss are seen and noted, then the family will flourish.”
Fitting children with their first hearing aids
Most babies and young kids with hearing loss first get fitted with two hearing aids–one on each side–to offer balanced hearing. This lets them identify the location of a sound or know where a conversation is taking place. Wearing two hearing aids gives better sound quality and allows the child to recognize words in noisy environments.
Information to share with parents:
- There are hearing devices that are programmable. Many hearing aid models are offered in high-power that give a child access to a wider range of sounds (important when first developing language skills). Hearing aid programming software makes it possible for hearing aids to be tailored to ensure the hearing aid fitting is appropriate for the child and the speech signal is delivered at correct levels. The goal of digital hearing aids is to deliver soft sounds at a level the child can hear.
- If kids have “profound” hearing loss, parents can use forms of visual language (sign language or cued speech) while their child develops their spoken skills. This ensures the child is learning and developing language in as many ways as possible.
- Many kids with hearing aids benefit greatly from an FM system. This helps overcome effects of trying to listen in areas with poor acoustics or excess noise.
- As technology continues to improve, keep an eye out for technologies that may offer something older models do not. For example, parents should consider the question: Is there something available to improve on the technology my child already has?
- After a trial of about 3 – 6 months wearing hearing aids, some kids don’t show gains in speech or hearing development. If this is the case, the child may need a referral for further evaluation with a cochlear implant team. This option has expanded in recent years and is available to a wider range of children.
Advising families on timely, effective hearing care
Here are additional tips to share with parents of children who have hearing loss, as reported to The Hearing Review by Jane Madell, PhD, a pediatric audiologist with expertise in managing significant hearing loss in children:
1) Technology checks. It’s important that adults re-check their kids’ hearing aids every morning. Parents can ask someone at school to check during the day.
2) Is the FM on and working? Parents should ask teachers to be sure the FM system is turned on and is functioning. Perhaps parents can help work out a “special signal” the child can give to the teacher if he/she cannot hear the FM system properly.
3) Frequent speech perception testing. Although hearing aids may be set correctly to reach the child’s eardrum, parents and care providers need to ensure the child hears speech clearly and understands what is being spoken. This means finding out what the specific perception errors are – not simply the score! That way, you can adjust the hearing technology (ie, If the child is mis-perceiving the phonemes, it shows that he/she is not hearing at 5,000 – 6,000 Hz.) Knowing this, you can modify settings and then recheck.
4) Monitor performance. Everyone involved in the child’s life needs to keep track of what he/she is hearing and not hearing. This includes parents as well as auditory-verbal clinicians, and teachers–all can act as “listening police.” Suggest parents keep a log of situations where the child hears well and where he/she has trouble. What specific phonemes are misheard? You can change hearing device settings to make performance better.
Guiding families to get early intervention (EI) help for kids
It’s vital that you steer families toward the programs and resources available to support their children on the hearing care path. It starts with Early Intervention (EI), as stated earlier.
Most states can assist families with EI programs (eg, Oregon Early Hearing Detection and Intervention/EHDI Program, California Department of Developmental Services). They help families find resources for babies and toddlers. These programs assist with skills that usually develop in the first few years of life, such as talking, crawling, playing, eating and dressing. Most kids with hearing loss qualify for such EI programs under the “communication” or “audiology” category.
How to assist families with EI programs
- After confirming the child’s hearing loss, your practice sends a referral form to the public agency’s “Early Intervention Program” (check the guidelines in your particular county).
- The program begins gathering documentation and preparing for the child’s EI evaluation. They may request reports and test results from your office to help them figure out if the child is eligible for services.
- Make sure you or your staff can respond to calls and any requests for paperwork from the EI program. In that way, the child’s EI evaluation appointment can be scheduled sooner. The child can’t get program services unless the evaluation is finished and he/she is eligible.
In addition to public resources, there are also private options. Some private EI programs may have additional services or more frequent sessions available.
Covering Costs for EI Programs
Regional centers or local education agencies can provide or purchase needed services (that are not covered by insurance) for eligible infants or toddlers.
Family Resource Centers offer family support services. There is no cost for evaluation, assessment and service coordination.
Public or private insurance is available for “medically necessary therapy services,” such as occupational, physical and speech therapies. Details about program fees vary according to center and area.
CareCredit patient financing can sometimes help families budget for additional private services or hearing care products for kids.
The following websites offer useful information to share with parents dealing with hearing loss in a child:
To Learn More
If you need additional details to share with families on Early Intervention programs, call your local regional center, educational agency, or family resource center for information or a referral to Early Start services.