Hearing loss isn’t something kids learn about in school, so when they come face-to-face with a child wearing hearing aids, the first thought may be “different” or “weird.” A lack of understanding can contribute to bullying and teasing; could taking the time to teach a child about hearing loss help?
When I was in third grade, I remember a boy in my class who was treated differently. He would walk up to the teacher each morning and hand her a microphone to wear around her neck. She would flip a little switch, then say something and his face would light up. Almost every day, he would give her two thumbs up before returning to his seat in the front row. But one day, as we headed out to the playground for our morning snack break, a group of my classmates stood huddled in a circle, pointing and laughing at the boy. I remember feeling confused because I didn’t understand why they were laughing at him. When I got home, I asked my mom why they were laughing at him, and she explained that the boy had hearing aids.
She told me…
- How hearing works:
Even though the Internet wasn’t as resourceful as it is today, the first thing my mom did was a simple search on hearing diagrams. She pointed out the ear canal, the eardrum, the auditory nerve and the parts of the brain that hearing impacted. Looking at the diagram, she explained to me how sound travels through the canal to the auditory nerve. “The nerve leads to the brain, where it ‘thinks’ about what was heard by the ears,” she said. “Then your brain decides what the sound is and you know if you heard a bird singing or a rock falling.”
- How hearing aids helped the boy hear:
My mom explained that hearing aids work like a funnel, focusing on sounds and directing them straight to the boy’s ears. When he was listening to the teacher speak, the microphone she wore streamed the sound directly to his hearing aids. Then, the hearing aids shaped the sounds so his auditory nerve would be able to understand them. When a classmate spoke to him, the microphones on his hearing aids picked up the speech so he could understand too.
- How the hearing aids helped the boy in school
Each morning when we came in from our morning break, the first thing we did was create a circle with our chairs. Then, with our books in hand, we took turns reading out loud from a story we were assigned. My mom explained how hard this would be for the boy in our class if he didn’t have his hearing aids. Some of us were too far away for him to read our lips; others didn’t have loud enough speaking voices. But with the hearing aids, she said, our voices were amplified so that he could listen along and participate.
- That the hearing aids didn’t make him any different
One of the most important things my mom taught me was that hearing aids didn’t change his personality or make him different. Just because the boy was born with hearing loss didn’t mean that he didn’t love chocolate chip cookies or playing games as much as the rest of us. Instead of pointing and laughing, she said we should include him in our game of Go Fish! or when we played on the playground. “He isn’t any different from any of the rest of you, his ears just need a little help,” she said.
When I went back to school the next day, I felt like I understood what was really happening. I realized that the other students who were laughing and teasing the boy simply didn’t understand. They only saw how he was “different” and didn’t know that in truth he really wasn’t. I felt like I could be a better friend to the boy in my class after my mom explained his hearing aids to me. I felt like I knew what questions to ask without being rude, and I was excited by the opportunity to learn something new. I also felt I should help the other students to understand. Instead of pointing, I was an educated third grader helping someone else learn.
Now that I’m older, I realize how beneficial it was for me to learn about hearing loss at an early age. Even though no one in my family has hearing loss, my mom was equipped to explain it to me. By taking the time to explain hearing loss and hearing aids to me, she enabled me to make another friend and help others in my class to understand that hearing loss and hearing aids aren’t bad or weird but actually kind of cool.
Have you taught your child about hearing loss or hearing aids? Maybe you should.