‘We don’t have to do anything right now. One normal hearing ear is enough for normal speech and language development. We can monitor her closely and once her environment becomes more challenging we can talk about options.’
Yep, I’m guilty. I’ve said this or something like this to parents of a child with unilateral hearing loss. Back in my early days in the clinic, this was the general understanding. Yes, there was research out there saying these kids were at risk for problems, but in reality, the technology options were limited and often rejected. So for the younger kids, those who came to us earlier because mom or dad noticed they could only use the phone on one side, we watched and waited. For the school age kids, we talked about classroom modifications and environmental considerations and checked in on them every 6-12 months.
I still remember the first kid to teach me about the impact of unilateral hearing loss. Katie, was around 13 years old and actually had mild UHL. She had been struggling for a while and was having trouble focusing at school and keeping up in class. We talked about the options and decided to try a hearing aid, at least for school. Katie loved it! At follow up, I heard all about how much better she could follow in class and Mom reported improvements as well. Katie was actually keeping the hearing aid on full time. Now despite the huge progress there were still some times at school, where it was difficult for her to hear clearly. So we went the next step and trialed a remote mic system, otherwise known as an FM system at the time. Again, huge success! So for the record, Katie taught me that even a 13 year old with mild UHL can be motivated to wear not only a hearing aid but also to consistently use a RMS at school.
I was fortunate to be working clinically as newborn hearing screening was rolling out in Australia. It was an exciting and challenging time. We were able to start working with babies and families as early as 6 and 7 weeks, which meant these infants with hearing loss could really get the best start possible. On the flip side, we were meeting new moms and dads still grappling with life with a newborn, while trying to get their head around hearing loss and what it meansfor their little one. That’s when I met the second family to teach me about UHL.
Honestly, I don’t remember this little one’s name but she was around 3 months old with a moderate hearing loss in one ear. I can see Mom’s face in my head and I remember some of our conversations very clearly. Mom’s response to my comments above was ‘but can we do something right now? …Is there something we can try?…I don’t want her to miss out on anything!’ And so that little one was fit unilaterally with a hearing aid as well. I’ll admit consistent use took a little longer, as truthfully Mom didn’t see much of a difference. Make sense, she was really little at the time. But we always went back to Mom’s goal for this little one to not miss anything and to not fall behind, so they continued and established a consistent routine with the hearing aid.
It wasn’t long after that, I made two big moves. I moved back to the US and moved from the clinic to manufacturing. One of the greatest benefits of working with Phonak is the chance to keep up the studies and research going on in the industry. I’ve learned a great deal about UHL and its impact on children in the last 10 years, including the fact that one ear is actually just not enough.
Infants and children with UHL are at significant risk not only for speech and language delays but in many other areas as well. At the same time, technology has also come a long way and there are many solutions for clinicians and families to consider together specifically for UHL. One of the other big benefits of working with Phonak? Our commitment to bring the latest research, recommendations and guidelines for managing UHL in children to the clinicians and professionals working with these families on a daily basis.
In an effort to do just that, we recently brought together a panel of experts in the field to provide guidance on how to best manage children with UHL . The new Quick Practice Guideline: Tools and considerations for assessing and managing UHL in children can be downloaded today. Additionally, a more detailed paper will be available in the near future.
My best advice, take a few minutes and check it out. What I didn’t know then, you can learn today!
You may also be interested in reading a HearingLikeMe.com blog post written by the parents of 7 year old, Callie, whose unilateral hearing loss was unnoticed until she struggled at school.