By Ruth Storey
Our son, Adam, is a student at Grantham Village School. He is a triplet who spent the first two weeks of his life in an intensive care nursery. He passed his newborn hearing screening and we thought no more about it during his time as an infant — although, in hindsight, he was noticeably able to sleep through more disruption than his triplet brothers and was the quietest baby of the three. He tended to become tired easily, lying down to play, and snored loudly when asleep.
At about 18 months of age, Adam’s speech was significantly delayed. His pediatrician referred him for a hearing test with an audiologist to see if his lack of speech was related to any hearing issues. The hearing test showed a moderate to severe unilateral sensorineural hearing loss in his left ear.
Making it Fun
Adam has regular hearing tests and was fitted for a hearing aid at age 2. As he grows, he sometimes needs a larger ear mold and loves getting to choose what color his latest ear mold will be. Green is his favorite color so, when he was little, we called his hearing aid his “Green Ear” and explained that it helped to “super-power” his hearing.
It has always been fun for him to go into the hearing test booth and play hearing games with his audiologists. We try to make it a fun trip by taking time after the appointment to go and pick out a special snack or drink to enjoy together afterward. Overall, it has been a positive experience for him and his brothers are sometimes jealous that they don’t get a cool-looking piece of technology to make their hearing super-powered!
In reality, of course, the hearing aid does not “fix” Adam’s hearing; it simply helps to amplify certain frequencies of sound that he has difficulty hearing. Many people assume that hearing aids are all that is required to normalize a person’s hearing, but that is far from true. A person wearing a hearing aid does benefit from hearing sounds with more clarity, but that is offset by the difficulty in filtering out background noise that is also amplified by the hearing aid, such as the whirring of air conditioners, the hum of the refrigerator, the washing machine churning.
He is challenged to keep up in social conversation with other kids, especially in the school cafeteria, where he is surrounded by speech that is fast-moving and loud. In that situation, he often chooses to switch off his hearing aid so that he doesn’t have to work as hard at following what his friends are saying.
Adam has been very fortunate to have a school where most staff members are thoughtful about his needs regarding his hearing loss. He uses an FM system, which connects to his hearing aid and allows the teacher’s verbal instruction to be heard clearly, despite the classroom background noise.
The FM system is used by teachers in unified arts instruction, which is especially helpful for noisier subjects such as music and P.E., and he receives other accommodations such as seating closer to the front of the classroom and careful instruction to make sure he understands what is requested.
Something So Small
The source of Adam’s hearing loss was always a bit of a mystery until last September when he underwent a short procedure to have his remaining ear tube removed. A CT scan at that time showed that he has a condition called enlarged vestibular aqueduct, which is an enlargement of an extremely tiny structural part of the hearing system deep inside the inner ear.
This is not something that will improve or can be fixed and he has to avoid situations that could result in a strong blow to the head, such as boxing or football but, otherwise, knowing about it does not change things for Adam. Our main priority will be to ensure that his hearing is checked on a regular basis in case it should start to deteriorate further. For the last several years, it has been stable and we hope it will stay that way.
Ruth Storey lives in Grantham, N.H.