Spoken Language and Hearing Loss

International Symbol of Deafness / Hard of Hea...
International Symbol of Deafness / Hard of Hearing This symbol indicates individual(s) who is deaf, hard of hearing, or having some degrees of hearing loss. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will never forget the day when the doctor told us:

“Your daughter needs hearing aids”…

On the way home, I kept saying aloud:

“It must be a mistake!”

My husband looked at me and said:

“I was in the booth with her…I could hear the sound spilling from the headphones…she did not even react to it..she kept on playing with the blocks…”

How could a chatter box have moderately severe hearing loss.  At that level of hearing loss, she should not hear my voice ( I have a high-pitched voice).

I remember a particularly hard day.   I had to repeat every word of every sentence many,many times (dozens of times) before she would react to it.  I finally asked her:

“What do you think I sound like?”

“Blah, blah, blah, blah…” was her immediate answer.

Then, it dawned on me: she could hear my voice without understanding the words.  Her constant interest in my face was a sweet gesture and the means for lip reading.

Isn’t speaking directly related to hearing?

Then, why is my daughter speaking so well?

What did we do that had such a great impact in her speaking, in spite of her hearing loss?  We did not even know about her hearing loss until after her sixth Birthday.

That was the answer:  we did not know about her hearing loss.  We immersed her in sound just like we would have done with any other child.

There were many things I would have done differently if …Well, I did not know about her hearing loss.  Maybe you and your family can benefit from our family’s experience with hearing loss.  Here is what we learned:

  • Late introduction to TV.  True to our doctor’s recommendations, we did not introduce our daughter to TV until her second Birthday.  It was very funny to watch her pondering over the workings of the “big black box”!
  • One-on-one involvement.  Introduce your little one to the daily schedule and pulse of your household by making her part of all your tasks.  Give him small size pots, pans, gardening and cleaning tools from the moment he could walk.  It took twice as long to accomplish any of my tasks, but it gave us a chance to share and talk while doing them;
  • Reading Aloud.  Start reading to your little one as soon as possible.  We started our daughter on night-time reading the moment we brought her home from the hospital.  By the time she was three, we were reading chapters books.  It is a time consuming task that will pay you back tenfold, in the long run.  Some of our families favorite books are:

Winnie the Pooh series by AA Milne and Ernest H. Shepard

Beatrix Potter series

English: Blanche Fisher Wright's cover artwork...
English: Blanche Fisher Wright’s cover artwork for the Rand McNally 1916 book The Real Mother Goose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies
The Tale of Tom Kitten
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle
The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher
Two Bad Mice
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck
The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse
The Little House by Virginia Burton
The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
Ox-Cart Man by Barbara Cooney
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
A good collection including classic stories and folktales such as The Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Man, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.
A good collection of Aesop’s Fables, such as the one illustrated by Milo Winter
A nice Mother Goose collection, such as The Real Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright

  • Early Music and Audiobooks Introduction.  Our family loves music.  So, we introduced her to the joys and richness of Chicago’s cultural community by taking her to the Dame Myra Hess Concerts at the  Cultural Center.  One of her first favorite toys was a musical cube made by Munchkin.  It played Mozart and was able to add or subtract different instruments from the orchestra.  Munchkin - Mozart Magic Cube
  • Support System.  Surround your little one with knowledgeable and caring professionals, who can help her succeed  regardless of the challenges faced.  You should have seen my face when my oldest asked for violin lessons.  My first impulse was to say:..you cannot hear, Joey.  I bit my tongue and did extensive research to find a violin teacher able and willing to work with a hearing impaired child.  Misses Borchards took Joey under her wing.  And she expected her pupil to rise to the occasion.  Rise she did.  Four months later, I was listening to her playing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” on a very small violin, while Daddy proudly accompanied her at the piano!

I learned something that day: this is her life! I can’t allow my fears to stop her from achieving.

Unbeknown to me, researchers knew about the influence of a language-rich environment on children’s learning abilities.  The difference, both quantitative and qualitative, amounts to a striking 30 million more words heard by age three (Hart & Risley, 1995).  The medical community is paying attention and reacting to this incredible news.  One of our daughter’s doctors is Dana Susking, M.D.  Dr. Susking is a professor of Surgery and Pediatrics in the Section of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery and the director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implantation Program at University of Chicago.  Also, she is the co-founder of Project Aspire.

According to an article in Volta Voices ( Cultivating rich early language environments for all children, May/June, 2013 issue, pg. 30/31 ) “Project Aspire-or Achieving Superior Parental Involvement for Rehabilitative Excellence- is founded upon the belief that every child has the right to communicate and engage with the world around him or her…that parents are their child’s first and most important teachers and hold the key to unlocking their child’s full potential..all children from weak language environments fall short from meeting their learning potentials.  For children with hearing loss, the consequences of an impoverished language environment are even further reaching: their very ability for basic communication is put at risk.”  To read the full article, please go to:

http://listeningandspokenlanguage.org/uploadedFiles/Connect/Publications/Volta_Voices/VVMayJune_4_final%20to%20upload.pdf

Note: Dr. Suskind  will focus on Project Aspire at the 2013 AG Bell Listening and Spoken Language Symposium, July 18-20, in Los Angeles, California.

We met Dr. Suskind when our regular ENT told us that Joey’s hearing was deteriorating, ever so slightly.  She was losing some of her hearing in the mid-range.  The next step would be cochlea implant if the map of her inner ear was appropriate.

After many hours spent testing and meeting Dr. Suskind and many of her colleagues, we waited for the verdict: yes, she can have a cochlea implant.  But she does not need one since she was copping so well with her hearing loss.

At the end of our meeting, Dr. Suskind asked Joey:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be just like you and help other kids with hearing problems” she said without a doubt.

Those were the things that helped us.  I would be more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Good luck, in your new adventure!

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