A friend called me from the middle of an appointment with his preschool-aged child to find out what type of hearing aid he should get for his newly-diagnosed child. I told him a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. He asked “But the little ones they have here are so small, you can barely see them?”
I recalled the great opportunity I had to speak with Dr. Carol Flexer, an expert in pediatric audiology, when my son was approaching his teenage years. I asked her how long she recommended staying with BTE hearing aids. She answered very matter-of-factly “As long as you can – I recommend BTEs for children, but I fit my husband with BTEs too since they offer the most power, the most flexibility and options, so I really discourage using other types of hearing aids.”
It was an eye-opening conversation for me. I had always figured that my son would eventually be able to and want to move over to less conspicuous hearing aids, that would not be so noticeable to others, as he got older. But Dr. Flexer’s practical perspective made me re-think the whole issue:
- There is nothing to be ashamed about when anyone has a hearing loss. Your child has done nothing wrong. You, parents, have done nothing wrong. There is no shame that must be hidden.
- Hearing aids are things that help us hear. Just like glasses are things that help us see. They are not symbols of old age or of being in a weak or decrepit state. When we try to hide hearing aids, we, even unknowingly, support the bias against hearing aids, as somehow associated only with old age and all that is unwanted about growing old.
- When we encourage our children to wear their hearing aids proudly, we send a very strong message to our children that their hearing aids are not any reason to be embarrassed – they are a fact of life and a part of their appearance that is just fine. The message is that we are comfortable with our child, and the child feels comfortable with himself too.
- We also send the message, loud and clear, to ourselves and everyone else who sees our child walking down the street: That hearing aids are a normal part of life, for children, for adults, for whomever needs them. Everyone can feel more comfortable wearing them when the people who need them wear them proudly.
- Choose cool BTE case colors or neat colors for ear molds. My son has chosen ear molds in every color combination (short of pink and purple:) and got see-through cases on his BTE hearing aids so you can see the mechanism from the outside. Just like the child with green rubber bands on her braces or friends’ autographs on a cast, making hearing aids more colorful makes them more fun.
- It is important for people who interact with our child to see that the child has a hearing loss. One of the consequences of hearing aids that are easy to see, is that adults or children who meet our children will easily be able to see that our child has difficulty hearing. The child is not rude, or ignoring you, or dumb – he just can’t hear well. How quickly do people jump to the wrong conclusions about a child who has a disability that is hard to see! Ironically, it is really to our child’s benefit if their hearing loss is easy to notice.
- A little perspective is good too: we are so very fortunate that we HAVE modern hearing aids to help us hear. Kids, not long ago, had big boxes to wear around their necks, that barely made sounds loud enough for them. They struggled terribly to hear anything with those crude, analog, body-worn hearing aids. Now we have so much more sophisticated technology to make our children’s lives better. That’s something to really be proud about!
Lets all hope that each year, as our kids grow and learn, the world will all learn to accept hearing loss and hearing aids with more understanding. Lets hope that hearing aids will continue to get better and better, improving everyone’s lives.