Does my child need a break from their hearing aids or cochlear implants?

06 June 2017

The quick and easy answer to this question is no.

However, please don’t stop reading, it is important to understand why this is the case and consider what reasons you may have for believing a break is necessary.

If you feel your child needs a break because they consistently pulls at one ear or is exceptionally adverse or disturbed by the hearing device discuss this with your therapist or audiologist as the settings could potentially need some adjustment or the moulds may not be fitting properly.

However, if you feel that your child needs a break because they seem tired or because they have done well at keeping the device on for most of the day, this is what we might call an AVT faux pas.

A child should never consider taking the hearing aids off as a reward. What we do want is to make being a good listener part of your child’s personality. Your child should want to have their hearing device on.

How do we achieve this?

Your child will need to keep the device on for all waking hours as this will allow them to experience the benefit of accessing a variety of sounds in a variety of contexts. It is with frequent exposure to all sounds when a child will begin realise what is being missed out on. Trust that this will happen eventually! Believe it or not some children eventually want to sleep with their technology on.  

To put it into perspective this is a great story from one of our therapists:

When I was nine years old I received glasses. I initially refused to wear them as I was able to get by, by squinting at the board and filling in unknown words using context or peering at my friend’s paper. Once I was finally convinced to wear my glasses (heavily bribed) I was amazed at how much detail I had been missing. I remember distinctly that I could see individual leaves on the trees instead of a fuzzy green cloud which I had no idea was common sight to everyone else.”

However, we need to acknowledge that there is a difference between the kind of visual deprivation that requires glasses and the auditory deprivation that requires a hearing device. Glasses can instantly be put on and objects may be viewed clearly and everything you missed out on exists there in front of you. While it is true you can put a hearing device on and hear, it does not at all mean that you can immediately understand or make sense of what you are hearing – it is not “all there in front of you”; that understanding only develops with consistent exposure and repetition in different contexts. There is a critical period for developing speech and language that occurs in the early years of life (current research states the first 3 years) and of course the earlier the exposure and intervention the better.

Our therapists can often be heard saying a child will only produce what they can hear. A lack of access to speech sounds will impact articulation. Back to the analogy of needing glasses, seeing a fuzzy green cloud on top of a tree trunk was not really seeing the entirety and the complexity of a tree. You merely get the “gist” of a tree. The ability to see those individual leaves on the trees is similar to being able to hear those individual speech sounds. It is the detail that makes the difference. We don’t need a break from seeing clearly just as we don’t need a break from hearing clearly.

Wearing hearing aids for all waking hours applies to language development as well. Eighty percent of what children learn is learned incidentally. This means that the majority of what children learn happens through overhearing and watching others, and we are communicating all the time.  If a child is only wearing a hearing device at school or at childcare they will miss out on much of the important day to day social and functional language that happens around the home as the range for hearing has significantly been reduced without appropriate technology. 

So hopefully you read past the first sentence of this article, which offered a quick answer of “no” so that you can understand the importance of keeping a hearing device on for all waking hours. 

We do realise though that children can be stubborn and some will make it their mission to try and take off their device. Every parent goes through this battle of wills with their child. We have even heard stories of cochlear implants being thrown out of the car window (luckily they are magnetised and stick to the car).

Remember that your therapist is also there to guide and support you and to provide you with a range of ideas and strategies to help you through challenging moments in your child’s development, or talk to some other parents – they always have the best advice for this. 


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