What do these three have in common? They’re all times when wearing a hearing device can be difficult, if not impossible and not allowed at all! Great new innovations in hearing technology are making :off the air” times fewer and farther between, but there may be some situations in which children cannot wear their equipment. Not surprisingly, because of this temporary gap in hearing, children are sometimes missing the language and vocabulary associated with these everyday experiences.
For example, I once had a four-year-old student, a very, very bright boy. He had profound hearing loss and used cochlear implants bilaterally. His mother did a fantastic job as his first teacher, filling his days with rich language experiences, and he was right on track to enter kindergarten in his local public school with his hearing peers. One day, when I was working with him on a standardized test of vocabulary, he was blowing me out of the water, getting card after card correct… until we got to “toothbrush”. TOOTHBRUSH!?! His mother and I were both in shock. How did he not know this simple word? Well, we brainstormed about it a little, and realized that he always brushed his teeth at night right after getting out of the bathtub… without his cochlear implants on! No wonder he knew great words like cauliflower and cotton — those were words he’d been exposed to during the day, with his “ears” on. But for bath time words, he was at a loss!
This was a huge wake-up call for me. Logically, I had always known that there were some times that wearing a CI would just not be possible (even more so with the older generations of CIs that were in existence years ago), but I had always assumed that children would learn the vocabulary and language associated with those “off air” times incidentally during other “on air” times. I still think this incidental learning occurs and it is vital, but I also think that we, as parents and professionals, need to informally assess children to make sure that this learning really is happening, and to consciously plan some opportunities for feeding it into children while they are in their best hearing condition.