One of the most common questions I hear from parents is, “My child does XYZ. Is this due to the hearing loss?” I’ve heard all kinds of things — from the obvious (having difficulty hearing in noise) to the off-the-wall (preferring a certain food) — attributed to the child’s hearing loss. What drives this, and how can we help parents figure out if it’s a “kid thing” or a “hearing loss thing”?
I think the inclination to make sense of children’s behavior is natural. Kids do funny, crazy things sometimes! (Come to think of it, adults do, too…) Especially during the toddler years, behavior can be perplexing. If parents have no prior experience with hearing loss, it’s easy to start thinking that maybe that’s the cause of these bizarre behaviors, however unrelated to auditory function they may be. Sometimes, the child with hearing loss is the first or only child in the family, so parents lack a frame of reference. Other times, if the child with hearing loss has siblings who have typical hearing and those siblings did not exhibit this particular behavior (whatever it may be), that can also be seen as a sign that this is a “hearing loss thing.” It can seem kind of laughable sometimes: “My child gets colds more often than his brother. Is this a hearing loss thing?” “My child hates going to bed at night. I think it’s the hearing loss.” “My child get so upset if her friends don’t play a game by the rules. I think it’s because she is hard of hearing.”
But I get it: parents are really searching for answers. And when another parent chimes in with, “My child with hearing loss does that, too!” it’s easy to make your mind see what it wants to see — a pattern, an explanation of the behavior. But this is not research. Our brains are wired to see pattern and order, so much so that we make ourselves see things that aren’t there. Sadly, I sometimes see professionals doing this, too, saying things like “Hearing loss kids are so XYZ,” (like children with hearing loss are a monolithic group) or, “All deaf kids tend to do ABC” (as if they’ve met ALL the children with hearing loss in the world and conducted a scientific study).
Now, some of the time, a child’s puzzling behaviors can be attributed to the hearing loss. If it has to do with speech, language, or listening — suspect the hearing loss first. While it’s true that some children who is deaf or hard of hearing may have had speech and language difficulties with or without the hearing loss, it is important to work on these issues with a qualified professional who is a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist. Children with hearing loss may have an increased incidence of sensory processing disorders, which can really benefit from the services of a qualified occupational therapist (especially one who has experience with children with hearing loss who use listening and spoken language, or one who is willing to co-treat with your AVT). We also know that approximately 40% of children with hearing loss have some sort of additional disability. These are cases where some of the child’s behaviors may be hearing loss- or syndrome-related.
In general, however, I would venture to say that approximately 90+% of what I hear parents attribute to the hearing loss is really just a kid thing. Maybe your child has some unique, funny, or frustrating behaviors. That’s because of your child, not the hearing loss. It’s pretty likely that he would have been a stickler for having his teeth brushed the same way each night, or hated any orange food, or loved that certain toy with or without the hearing loss. It’s easy to pin things on the hearing loss. It’s harder — because it’s more ambiguous — to sit with the reality that, in all likelihood, it’s a “kid thing” and, like many “kid things,” there’s not really an explanation for it other than that child’s unique personality and temperament. I think it’s a healthier viewpoint, though. Instead of viewing the child as “the hearing loss,” it helps us view the child more holistically as “the child.”
We like patterns, and, even more so, we like answers. For some of these things, we may never know if it’s a “hearing loss thing” or a “kid thing.” The important points to keep in mind are:
The child is a child first. While it’s tempting to view everything through the lens of “hearing loss,” I encourage you to just see the child as a child, who may or may not have acted this way even if she had typical hearing.
Regardless of the “why” for the behavior, if it is interfering with your child’s growth, development, academic success, or happiness — seek help! Get in contact with a qualified professional who can help you sort through the issues and put supports in place that will help your child thrive!