Audiologists are responsible for diagnosing and treating hearing loss and balance disorders. We work with patients of all ages with many different causes for their hearing loss. Many people lose their hearing or balance function as they age and require audiology services later in life.
However, there are an estimated 3 million children in the United States who have hearing loss. Some children are born with a loss, while others gradually lose their hearing as they age. 92% of children with hearing loss are born to parents with normal hearing. When a child is diagnosed with hearing loss, parents work with the audiologist to find the best communication mode for the family, whether that be spoken language or sign language. If a family chooses spoken language, then the child needs an assistive device to help them acquire the language.
Some children receive hearing aids, which amplify sound in the frequency ranges of each child’s personal hearing loss. Other children with more severe hearing loss often receive cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices, which bypass the natural hearing system and send electrical pulses directly to the brain. These pulses replicate the sound and speech in the environment.
The most successful children with hearing loss usually have parents who are very involved in their language-learning journey through partnerships with the speech pathologist and audiologist. Typically, the child’s speech therapist will train the parent in how to facilitate proper language development within their home. Parents also help the audiologists with programming the devices by reporting to us about how their child reacts to sound.
Parents are also responsible for verifying that the devices are working each morning, especially when the children are too young to tell us how the devices sound. An easy way to check and see if your child is hearing is by doing the LING-6 Sounds. Parents can say the LING 6 sounds to the child while they wear one device at a time (see image). If the child is able to repeat the sounds back without being able to see the parent’s face for lip-reading, then the device is working. Once the child reaches school-age, they are usually paired with an educational audiologist who works within the school district. This specialized audiologist helps to make sure that the child is able to hear in the classroom setting as well as self-advocate when they struggle to hear at school.
Here at the Audiology Center at Child’s Voice, we specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing losses for the pediatric population (newborns through 21-year-olds). When children receive their hearing aids or cochlear implants, it is not like glasses, where you put them on and automatically you can hear. It takes years of practice for each child’s brain to learn or re-learn how to make sense of meaning from all of the sounds that it is hearing. Our School Program uses a listening and spoken language curriculum that focuses on giving children lots of support so that they can learn to speak.
It is important that children with hearing loss who have the goal of learning language have constant exposure to a high-quality speech signal. This constant exposure to language helps give their brain enough input for them to be able to learn to speak themselves and make up for the time that they were deaf and without speech input. The children also require regular audiology visits, every 3 – 6 months, so that we can make sure that their devices are functioning and that they can hear all speech sounds well. When a child’s device is malfunctioning or they don’t have good programming, their language learning may stop or slow down, so we do everything we can to keep our children hearing and learning language during all waking hours of the day!
If you know parents of a child with hearing loss, please tell them about Child’s Voice Audiology Center and the excellent care that we offer. Also, if you would like some educational resources about audiology and children, please visit the following site: https://www.audiology.org/practice-resources/public-awareness/just-for-kids-and-young-adults/