Learning that your child has hearing loss can be a world-shaking event for parents. The truth is, though millions of people around the world have hearing loss, most parents have little prior experience with people who are deaf or hard of hearing before discovering that their child is suddenly a member of this group. Many people’s only experience with hearing loss is their hard-of-hearing grandfather whose hearing aids whistle all the time, or the person they’ve seen signing on TV, or even, sadly, deaf peddlers they’ve encountered on the street. In short, families are plunged into an entirely unfamiliar world.
But once you’re in this world of hearing loss, you realize: children with hearing loss in the 21st century are miles away from the stereotypes most people have in their heads. Thanks to modern hearing technology and Auditory Verbal Therapy, these child can listen. They talk. They even talk on the phone. They attend mainstream schools. They THRIVE.
Children with hearing loss have made incredible strides, and I think it’s high time that our attitudes catch up! Instead of assuming that the child can’t, or that the child will have some kind of difficulty, why not presume that the child is inherently capable until experience proves otherwise? Can my child join the Boy Scouts? Can she learn a foreign language in middle school? Can she join the choir? Is it okay for him to play sports*? Is it really possible for children with hearing loss to be mainstreamed from day one of preschool? Is it really possible that children with hearing loss can learn to listen and talk (in multiple oral languages) without the use of sign? Why not?
When we have all of the pieces in place: appropriate amplification, appropriate therapy, and solid family support, children with hearing loss are ready to soar. Our job is to support them to the extent they need it, and to hold back to let them do as much as possible on their own. It can be a fine line to figure out just how much accommodation is necessary, but bear in mind that over-supporting is just as harmful to the child in the long run as under-supporting.
Instead of asking, “Can he?” let’s say, “I think he can. What are the minimum accommodations, if any, that he needs to succeed?” Small ripples of change in attitude can lead to big waves in changing how the general public thinks about hearing loss today.
*There are some sports, such as football and wrestling, where the risk of a blow to the head that could dislodge the internal implant is so great that some CI surgeons caution against participating. Other surgeons are fine with it. Given what we know about the risk TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) in these sports, even “minor” TBIs that go unnoticed but accumulate over time, I would caution the parents of any child, with or without hearing loss, to choose another sport and avoid these activities. The risk of permanent cognitive damage is just not worth it!