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One of the most common phrases you’ll hear as a parent of a child with hearing loss is “Eyes Open, Ears On!” Why? It’s a simple and easy way to remember to keep hearing devices on your child with hearing loss all waking hours. Why all waking hours? Because your little one needs the same opportunity to hear all the sounds of speech as children with typical hearing to grow their brain to learn to listen and talk.
A great way to ensure your little one is gaining access to all of the sounds and words around them to grow their brain is to establish regular routines around the wear and care of their hearing technology. A good routine — especially in the morning — can set a strong foundation and help your child learn to listen and talk. Remember, “eyes open, ears on!” As soon as your little one is awake, their hearing devices should be on and working properly.
Let’s hear from a mom about how “eyes open, ears on” and a solid Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) routine helped her daughter grow up to be an exceptional conversationalist and reader.
Lydia, a mom and Hearing First Family Support Community Ambassador, shares what her morning routine actually looked like with her daughter, Rose. Let’s hear how she made sure her daughter’s devices were on and working every morning.
When Rose first got her hearing aids, I must admit that I was daunted by the technology! I was worried that we would not know how to use it, or we might break it. And, I was worried that there could be a chance Rose would be wearing devices that weren’t working! Our audiologist told me to relax (ha!), trust the technology, and ensure that Rose wore the devices every waking moment. So that’s what we did… And here is how we did it.
The hearing aids came with a lot of accessories. We had the remote microphone, the charger for the remote microphone, the Global II hearing aid dryer, packets of batteries, extra tubes and tone hooks, and all the little devices that help clean the hearing aids. We had every possible retention device: toupee tape, headbands, ear suspenders, ear gear, and probably 20 different pilot caps. I felt like Rose’s room was just a disaster with hearing equipment everywhere! So my husband put up a small shelf next to Rose’s dresser. And that shelf was dedicated solely to Rose’s hearing aid equipment. It made all the difference to be organized with all the accessories so we could easily find and use them appropriately.
For us, it worked well to do this when I changed her diaper because that was how we started our mornings. At first, I was afraid of the technology and a little worried about hurting her ears with the ear molds. So, I needed a place to do it where I could try, fail, and try again. I needed Rose to be happy and comfortable while I got more comfortable at putting her devices on. Her changing table made the most sense for both of us! She would be cooing and kicking, and I could practice putting them in. It only took a few days before I was a pro. Rose came to expect her hearing aids the minute she woke up. And I knew how important it was for her not to miss a moment of our household conversations.
I was always worried that the technology wouldn’t be working or I wouldn’t know if Rose would be hearing all the sounds of speech her little brain needed! So after the hearing aids came out of the dryer/sanitizer in the morning, I checked the batteries. Then I listened to the devices to hear the quality of sound and to make sure there were not any problems. Occasionally an ear mold or tube would be clogged with wax or fluid, and I could tell that the hearing aid was not working to its potential. So I’d clean the molds and try again. Doing the device check gave me peace of mind that her devices were on and working the way they should be!
After a couple of weeks, I realized there was nothing to be afraid of with the technology. Despite the fact that the hearing aids are small, expensive, and look fragile, they are amazing pieces of equipment! As we all learn, babies and toddlers with hearing aids are a crazy combination. Rose would rip the hearing aids out of her ears, pull them apart, chew on the molds, dip them in her food, hide them — and the hearing aids handled it all! I learned how to replace broken tubes and clean the ear molds with a little dish soap and warm water. Most importantly, I learned to trust the devices and do my best to make sure that Rose wore them at all times… no matter how many times I had to put them back in her ear per hour!
After devices were on and working — and she had a fresh, clean diaper! — we would continue on with our morning routine. That also included a Ling Six Sound test. This was a quick way for me to make sure Rose could hear the different sounds of speech. The Ling Six Sound test helped me catch any changes in her hearing right away. If I noticed she wasn’t responding to the low frequency sounds, I shared that with the audiologist. This helped inform our decisions to test and focus on those sounds in the sound booth, and allowed us to stay on top of any changes in her hearing early!
Learn more about the Ling Six Sound Test and why it matters here.
Many parents wonder “How many hours should my baby wear their hearing devices?” The goal should be all waking hours! Your audiologist can provide you with a report of your child’s wear-time data. Our audiologist was always pleased that the report showed how many hours per day Rose was wearing her devices. That made me happy too because we had committed to having them in her ears during all waking hours. Eyes open, ears on! And that mentality worked — we were able to get more than 10 hours of wear time a day!
My advice to parents getting started: calculate how many hours your baby or toddler is awake (minus nap time) then compare the actual results from the wear-time report to your calculations. You might be surprised by the difference between what we think happens and what actually does! I think this can be a very helpful tool, especially if your child attends daycare. It’s always good to know how much access to sound your child is getting per day so you can make a plan if they aren’t wearing their devices all waking hours.
It is so important for parents of children with hearing loss to remember the connection between access to sound and brain development. As Dr. Carol Flexer reminds us, the ears are the doorway to the brain. Because this was always on my mind, I knew that just having Rose wearing her hearing aids during all waking hours would help the auditory cortex of her brain develop. I was astounded to find out that incidental learning contributes to 90% of her language development. What’s incidental learning? It’s what happens when Rose overhears other conversations happening around her and her brain learns from it! I didn’t want her to miss the conversations in our house — ones I was having with her sister, or that her father was having with his parents, or that I was having with my friends. I knew all of these conversations were beneficial.
I read and loved the book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain by Dana Suskind. It was our goal to have Rose hear 40 million words by the age of four. And I also wanted to make sure that Rose was hearing quality language. So we read tons and tons of books, and we played games. I made sure that I was in close proximity delivering high quality spoken language whenever I could. I also used a remote microphone so she could hear me in the car, outside, and any time I was walking around the house.
Eight years later, I can tell you that establishing this hearing aid routine first thing in the morning has made a huge difference. Now Rose takes off her own devices just before she falls asleep, she puts them on before she gets out of bed in the morning, and she even changes her own batteries. She expects them to work perfectly at all times, and she is very aware of when they are not working perfectly. Then she demands they get fixed immediately!
Because Rose had quality access to sound with great audiological care, she has wonderful articulation, a huge vocabulary, and a love of books and literature. Every day I am so grateful to this amazing technology. I am also grateful for the amazing team of professionals who helped us establish our routines, and make sure that we were (and are!) always striving for the best possible outcomes.
Start small and dream big! Take it one day at a time and know that you’ve got this! All the little things you do for your infant and toddler pay off tenfold as they grow up! Rose just had her eighth birthday on Sunday, and so like all parents of older kids that have come before us, I can tell you that it goes ridiculously fast. Relish every moment, trust the technology, and, most importantly, love that child!
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Remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Thousands of parents have been in your shoes. Find other parents who can share from experience, offer encouragement, and help your family reach your LSL goals.
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