Vol. 5 •Issue 2 • Page 32
Cochlear implants and ALDs are allowing our youth with hearing impairments to learn on a level playing field.
For children and adults who do not suffer from any outwardly noticeable disabilities, hearing is perceived as a natural, automatic ability. However, in the United States, some 12,000 babies with hearing impairment are born annually, and it is the number one birth defect.1 Fortunately, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices (ALD), and traditional amplification can allow children with hearing impairments to discover sound.
As audiologists, speech-language pathologists and educators witness daily, without the capacity to hear, many other aptitudes fall behind what is typically deemed normal.
“A child’s hearing is the beginning of learning,” said Donna Wayner, PhD, president and founder of Hear Again Inc., a Latham, NY, publisher of materials related to hearing loss. “If a child’s diagnosis of hearing loss is delayed, then many valuable learning experiences are missed.” Hearing begins in the womb as early as the fourth month of gestation, she said. “Babies can hear various sounds in the womb, giving them a certain connectedness before they are born.”
Hope for Parents
Now, because of universal newborn hearing screening, increasing awareness, and advocacy of early hearing aid fittings or cochlear implants for children with major hearing deficits, parents can have hope that their children will communicate and function normally in society. Although this hearing technology will allow children to hear the sounds of a crowded playground for the first time, some sounds may be distorted. Therefore, in many instances, cochlear implants, hearing aids and FM systems work conjointly to help children play better and succeed in public schools. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (IDEA) requires all public schools to make their environments accessible to school-age children with disabilities at no extra charge.2 So, once implanted children are fitted with the appropriate hearing assistive technology, they can begin transitioning into a mainstream school.
“With the successes of the cochlear implant seen in early surgeries, we are developing a group of children who won’t need services that [children who are deaf] needed in the past, and assistive listening devices and systems will be even more important,” said Dr. Wayner.
Soon, because of advanced technology, Dr. Wayner contends, audiologists will be practicing in an age of people who are hard of hearing instead of totally deaf. Therefore, she predicts, the demand for variations on current models of ALDs will increase.
There are a wide variety of listening systems that can help with watching television, talking on the phone and other daily activities, explained Dr. Wayner. “We’re moving toward a more auditory rather than a visually-based momentum. Taking advantage of the wide array of assistive technology is key.”
The book, Hearing and Learning: A Guide for Helping Children, lists some of the various alerting and assistive listening devices available.3
Background Noise Reduced
Connecting an FM system to a cochlear implant is valuable in a classroom setting for children who have received implants. Dr. Wayner believes that background noise, such as other voices, traffic and heating systems and poor acoustics are in general “challenging to people with hearing loss to some degree.” Because the FM listening system acts as a sound enhancer, it maximizes listening and learning opportunities in the classroom. The total hearing environment for that child will be improved.
When equipped with an FM listening system, the child with hearing impairment will be less distracted and more likely to improve academically. “It allows a child to concentrate better with the teacher’s voice being heard more directly in the ear through headphones or through their speech processor,” explained Dr. Wayner. “The FM system reduces sound distortion and room reverberation.” Though cochlear implants work to make children who are deaf hear, outside noises often interfere with the function of the implant. However, ALDs work to alleviate those common distortions.
Though FM systems help process implant-directed speech, audiologists must be sure to utilize the appropriate FM system and work to maintain optimum function. The link required to connect the FM system to another component will vary depending on the brand of implant. So, audiologists must be sure to communicate with the manufacturer to determine which electrical cord is required. Audiologists should also consider the individual needs of each child before choosing an appropriate FM system or any other ALD.
Audiologists should consider the following when fitting listeners with an FM system:
• Visually inspect the cord and the hearing instrument itself.
• Check that both systems are working on the same frequency.
• Check that the microphone is plugged in correctly.
• Listen through the FM receiver to ensure quality sound.
• Determine whether the user can hear properly through the system.3
Audiologists should check for the following when troubleshooting FM systems:
• Weak battery
• Defective receiver cords, buttons or antennas
• Microphone plugged in incorrectly
• Channel interference3
With the successes of the cochlear implant and new adaptations of amplified systems, there is new hope in the field of audiology. If a child’s hearing loss is accessed early, they may have opportunities that were not possible in the past. These new modifications are expected to have a great impact on the future of audiology and the services made available to people with hearing impairment.
1. ABCNews.com. (2002). “Listen Up: Family Makes Their Voices Heard on Deafness.” Accessed via http://abcnews.go.com/sections/GMA/GoodMorningAmerica/GMA020308King_family_cochlear.html
2. Cochlear Implant Association. (2001). Educating a child who has a cochlear implant. Accessed via http://www.cici.org/educ.html.
3. Wayner D.S. (2001). Hearing and Learning: A Guide for Helping Children. Hear Again Inc, Latham, NY., 52, 54-55. Accessed via http://www.hearagain.publishing.com
For More Information
Shayna Bayard is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, PA. She can be reached at [email protected].