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.
For example, I now buy almost every book I see about bath and bedtime routines and water activities. You can use baby dolls and practice bathing them and putting them to bed. Keep your child’s devices on for as much of the experience as possible, or as much as you feel comfortable (e.g. keep the CIs on while washing the child’s tummy, and take them off for shampooing the hair, keep the HAs on for wading in the water, but not for splashing or swimming time). Teach songs for bedtime and bath time so your child can vocally participate in a familiar routine even if he/she cannot hear you singing, too. Have good bath time toys for creative play — cognitive growth is good, too, even if it is not tied to language every single second. If you’ve got a hearing child handy, give him a bath and think of all the different words and phrases you use — make a list! Does your child with hearing loss know how to use and understand all of those words, too? Parents naturally use a lot of good “parentese” talking during these routine bonding times, and your deaf child deserves this as well, just at a time when he or she can actually hear you!