Just about 3 children out of 1,000 in the US are born with hearing loss in one or both ears. And nearly 15% of school age children between the ages of 6 and 19 have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss that occurs earlier in a child’s life can result in communication delays, poor academic achievement, social isolation, and affect the vocation chosen when they become adults.
How do you know if your child has hearing loss?
Infants are regularly tested for hearing loss, a painless test that is usually conducted while they are asleep. The screening is called Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) and it is performed in every infant after birth. If hearing loss is detected, the child will receive a follow-up screening before the age of three months and a referral to support programs by the age of six months.
Early detection is very important because, as we touched on previously, hearing has a direct impact on language, speech, and social development. When children are diagnosed with hearing loss, they are typically referred to an otolaryngologist and an audiologist. The otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in the function of the ear, nose and throat. An audiologist specializes in the science of hearing. Together, these specialists will help you to enhance your child’s hearing to the highest level possible.
If your child was not diagnosed with hearing loss at birth, but you observe the following signs and symptoms as they grow, schedule a hearing screening with your physician.
- Trouble learning
- Trouble concentrating in school
- Behavioral issues such as disrupting class
- Doesn’t participate in conversations, family gatherings
- Seems confused
- Unusual personality changes
What are pediatric hearing aids?
Pediatric hearing aids can be made to fit children as young as 3 to 6 months old. As the child grows, frequent appointments and screenings will ensure that the hearing aid fits the child physically and that they meet specific hearing needs. For example, hearing aids will need to be adjusted to meet the specific needs of hearing in a variety of environments including classrooms, daycare centers, another family member’s home with children, and your home.
Your audiologist will conduct a hearing screening and then customize a hearing aid for your child based on the following factors:
- The type of hearing loss that your child experiences
- The level of hearing loss
- The shape and depth of the outer ear and ear canal
- The age of your child
- Whether or not wax build-up is an issue with your child
- The environments in which your child needs to hear – home, daycare, school, sports, etc.
Children are typically fitted with BTE hearing aids
The majority of children are fitted with behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids for many reasons:
- Adapt to many different earmold styles
- Earmolds in the BTE hearing aid detach, are easy to clean and handle, and are soft to the touch making them more comfortable for young ones to wear (however, earmolds must be remade frequently to accommodate the child’s growth).
- Parents can easily adjust and monitor BTE hearing aids for frequency and amplification
- BTE’s can be used with direct audio input or telecoil devices
Earmolds are made in many different bright and fun colors that are appropriate for children. Some parents like the idea because they can color coordinate them with a particular ear. Colors also entice the child to ear wear the hearing aid. Many hearing aid manufacturers have pediatric programs in place and many audiologists have pediatric hearing aid kits for children. Stickers and fun activities encourage children to wear their hearing aids. Decorated clips help to keep the hearing aid attached to the child’s clothing should it fall out, or be pulled out, of the ear.
Thankfully, hearing science has advanced to the point where hearing aid technology is available for even the smallest patients. Pediatric hearing aids help children to hear the sounds of life and develop speech patterns normally. Trained audiologists help parents to understand all the ins and outs of pediatric hearing aids, how to use them, clean them, and how to encourage children to wear them.