Hearing Aids for Children: An Overview
If you have a child with hearing problems it can be heartbreaking to you as a parent. Thankfully, hearing aid technology has advanced dramatically over the course of the last couple of decades to the point that it is no longer abnormal for young children with hearing problems to be wearing hearing aids. In some cases a child's hearing will improve as he grows and he may one day no longer need the aids. In other cases, no improvement is ever realized, yet the child has grown up with hearing aids and has learned to adapt to their use.
In either case, parents are the best advocates for their children. It is your right, as a parent, to seek the best medical care for your children you possibly can, even if that means you must insist your doctors do something they had not originally intended to do. In the case of hearing aids, sometimes it requires a second and third opinion as well as extensive testing before you find the right match for your child. But, as countless other parents who have gone before can tell you, the persistence is well worth it.
Two Kinds of Hearing Aids
For adults there are between four and six different kinds of hearing aids depending on the classification you use. But for children, there are only two: behind-the-ear (BTE) and in-the-ear (ITE.). In the ear hearing aids are almost never used for children for several reasons.
First of all, the ear canal is usually too small to accommodate them. Secondly, they are rather fragile and usually will not stand up to the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of a child. Third, they can cause serious injury if they are mishandled. For example, a child who is likely to put his fingers in his ear could push the hearing aid deep enough into the ear canal to cause permanent damage. In-the-ear hearing aids are only used for children when it's absolutely necessary.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids are much more preferable because:
- they are durable and long-lasting
- they can be monitored and adjusted by parents
- they depend less on the size of a child's ear canal
- they are less expensive
A behind the ear hearing aid uses an ear piece and a hook that goes over the back of the ear. The hearing itself is built into the entire system, utilizing a miniature microphone and amplification system. Unfortunately, parents who are embarrassed by hearing aids sometimes find BTE models unattractive because they are easily seen. But keep in mind your child probably won't care, especially if he or she is very young. If you think it's necessary, hearing aids can be cosmetically altered so that their color and shade more closely match your child's natural skin tone.
Testing Your Child
An audiologist is the best type of doctor to determine whether or not your child needs hearing aids. The type of tests he or she will run will depend on the age of your child and how well your child is forming sounds with his mouth. If the audiologist determines hearing aids are necessary, it will be important for you to have a child's hearing retested at least every year up until puberty. This testing is necessary to see whether or not his hearing has improved or degraded, as well as whether or not there's a need to adjust hearing aids.
Don't be surprised to discover the ear buds for your child's hearing aids need to be replaced quite frequently as he or she grows. This is part of the normal process of aging. If it seems like you're constantly getting new ear buds in the first few years, take comfort in the fact that the frequency will decrease as he gets older.
Controlling Your Child's Hearing Aids
It's important for parents to learn how to monitor and control a child's hearing aids because that child cannot do it for themselves. Obviously, parents cannot tell exactly how well their children are hearing, or what it is they're hearing, but an audiologist can train you how to properly monitor nonetheless. Using the training you receive, you'll be watching for certain signals from your child that hearing aids need to be adjusted.
Along those same lines, you should look for hearing aids that have a tamper proof volume button so that children cannot accidentally adjust them upward. Otherwise, an accidental increase in volume could further damage already fragile hearing.
Persistence Is Important
Children who wear hearing aids from infancy usually do not resist them at all. They are simply a natural part of that child's life because he's never known life without them. On the other hand, giving hearing aids to a toddler may be a little more challenging when it comes to keeping them on. Toddlers will often find them annoying and try to pull them out at every opportunity. There are several things you can try to help keep them in until the child gets used to them.
Psychologists suggest you start by having the child wear the hearing aids while doing something fun; something he enjoys to the extent that he would be distracted from realizing he's wearing them. If this works you can increase the frequency with which he wears them to include other activities as well. They suggest you refrain from punishing a child who refuses to wear his hearing aids.
If your effort to encourage the child to wear hearing aids voluntarily fails, you can try things like double-sided toupee tape, hearing aid clips, headbands, and around-the-head straps. Before you attempt one of these methods it's best to visit your doctor or audiologist and explain the situation. One of the two will be able to suggest a method that seems best for your child.
Finally, you may find it difficult to get your child to cooperate. This is normal. But be diligent, firm, and don't give up. As long as you persist your child will eventually figure out the hearing aids are in his best interests and he will wear them. On the other hand, if you simply give up because it's too hard your child may never be willing to try hearing aids again. In a day and age where hearing aids can do so much, it would be a shame for that to happen.