Hearing Loss and Additional Disabilities

Did you know that an estimated 30-40% of children who are deaf or hard of hearing are not “just deaf” but have other associated challenges?  I like to call these children “deaf+” or “deaf plus” — children who, in addition to hearing loss, have other conditions, disabilities, or complicating factors.

Many of the most common causes of deafness in children are symptoms of larger syndromes or conditions.  For other children, their “deaf+” needs may be less obvious  — adoption, sensory integration issues, difficult family situations — all of these factors can contribute to a less than ideal environment for learning listening and spoken language.  Many people believe that only the “superstars” can succeed with a cochlear implant, only the best and brightest deaf children will ever learn to listen and talk.  Does that mean that cochlear implants and training in listening and spoken language are unattainable goals for these children?  Absolutely not!  In fact, I would argue that, for multiply disabled children, therapies that help them get the maximum benefit from what hearing technology they have and give them the most opportunity possible to communicate with the wider world are even more beneficial than for our children who are “just deaf”.  Just as hearing and talking can be goals for “just deaf” children, listening and spoken language can be achieved by “deaf+” children, too!  It might take a little longer, but children with multiple disabilities have just as much right to oral/aural communication as anyone else.  It is much better to set the bar high and scale back later than to deny these children a chance at listening and talking.

Here are two books I highly recommend for parents of “deaf+” kids (and, for parents of children who are “just deaf” there’s lots of helpful information in these books for you, too!):

The Connected Child by Karen B. Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine is a book intended for parents of children who joined their families through adoption, but this book has a wealth of information about basic nurturing and attachment-based parenting strategies parents of all children.  The book has great information about how diet and neurochemistry can impact children’s behavior and gives strategies for effective discipline, too.  A must-read!

The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz discusses sensory integration issues, which are surprisingly common in children with hearing loss.  Helping your child deal with overwhelming sensory input can help her make sense of her world and better focus on the task at hand — learning about her world, learning how to listen and talk, and, most importantly, having fun!

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