We actually hear with our brains, not our ears. Think of your ears as a doorway for sound to get to your brain, which turns what you hear into meaning. Auditory brain development is also connected to how we learn to talk. By listening to others, your brain learns the meaning for words. In fact, your brain starts receiving auditory information before you’re born and continues to grow auditory connections after birth. Newborn babies identified with hearing loss have already missed some hearing opportunities, which means it’s extremely important to find the right hearing device as soon as possible so their brains can start catching up. Think about hearing loss as a doorway problem and technology as the means of breaking through the doorway to feed auditory information to the brain.
For the best outcomes, work closely with your pediatric audiologist to understand your baby's degree of hearing loss, and if you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask questions.
Thankfully, babies with hearing loss have many options today. For most babies diagnosed with hearing loss, even a profound hearing loss, there’s a hearing device that can offer their brain access to all the sounds of speech. The device recommended for your baby depends on the nature of your baby’s doorway problem at any point in time. You are your baby’s first teacher and it’s important to find the right device for your baby to gain the best brain access to all the sounds of speech.
Ears are the Door to the Brain
Dr. Carol Flexer, a notable audiology thought leader, explains how we hear with our brains and why hearing technology is so important.
Hearing aids are typically the first hearing devices recommended to activate the auditory centers of your baby’s brain as soon as possible. The quality of today’s hearing aids for infants and young children can provide excellent brain access to all of the sounds of speech, leading to the development of listening and spoken language, reading, and academic success.
Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids are typically recommended for sensorineural hearing losses and for some conductive hearing losses in order to deliver auditory information through the doorway to your baby’s brain.
Your baby grows rapidly in the first year of life; this means that your baby’s ears will also be growing. Earmolds will have to be remade many times during the first year – especially the first six months of life. The quality and fit of the earmolds will be critical for your baby’s brain to access the best sound through the hearing aids.
Bone Conduction Hearing Aids may be recommended if your baby’s doorway has a conductive problem/hearing loss.
Your baby’s brain, with even severe to profound hearing loss, can access some speech by wearing hearing aids. In fact, many children continue to develop good speech and language with hearing aids. However, children whose brains are not able to access all the sounds of speech at a soft level (35 dB HL) through their hearing aids, due to the degree of their doorway problem, may miss out on the higher frequency speech sounds, such as /s/ and /f/. This reduced auditory brain access may affect speech development and the ability to learn higher level language skills required for reading and academic success.
When you and your baby attend regular appointments with the pediatric audiologist to manage their hearing devices and are enrolled in early intervention, you’ll have a team of LSL professionals supporting you. They can guide you in the decision to make a change in hearing technology if hearing aids are not getting enough auditory information to your baby’s brain to meet your LSL goals.
Cochlear implants are hearing devices that provide brain access to sound through a surgical procedure. They are typically recommended if your baby’s brain cannot access all the sounds of speech to develop listening and spoken language by using hearing aids. In the United States, cochlear implants are not typically inserted before one year of age, although they may be recommended much younger. There are specific audiological and medical guidelines that your audiologist and physician will share with you if a cochlear implant is recommended.
A cochlear implant consists of two main parts:
A cochlear implant actually replaces the part of the inner ear, the cochlea, that’s not working properly, and it works by sending electric signals to stimulate the auditory nerve which carries information to the brain.
If cochlear implants are recommended for your baby, you’ll go to a series of appointments at a cochlear implant center to determine if they qualify. You’ll consult with a cochlear implant surgeon, audiologist, and other professionals, like a speech-language pathologist or educator of the deaf and your early interventionist. There are several cochlear implant manufacturers available in the U.S. Your medical team will provide you with the information you need to make the best choice for your baby. Choosing the cochlear device that best fits your baby’s needs is an important one because your baby will wear the cochlear implant (as their doorway, brain access device) throughout their life.
Companies with FDA-approved Cochlear Implants in the U.S.
In some cases, whether your baby uses hearing aids, cochlear implants, or bone-anchored technology, additional devices may be recommended to help your baby hear their best in any listening environment.
A personal FM system is a device that connects to your baby’s hearing aid or cochlear implant and then to a microphone worn by you, which sends the sounds of your voice directly into your baby’s hearing device and then to your baby’s brain.
A sound field system is a device with a set of speakers and a microphone. This device is also used to help your child access spoken language in noisy environments.
Many other devices and accessories are available to connect to computers, smart phones, and TVs. There are also permanent systems, like inductive loop systems and infrared systems, that can be installed in commonly used environments. You’ll need to talk with your audiologist or LSL professional to see what the manufacturer of your child’s hearing device offers and/or recommends.
Every hearing device needs routine care and maintenance. You’ll need to understand how to use batteries, cables, and other parts of your baby’s hearing devices. Your LSL professional team will help teach you about the care and maintenance of your baby’s hearing devices
For device-specific care, hearing technology manufacturers often have many informational resources, like customer service departments that can answer questions about equipment, manuals for troubleshooting, and websites with instructional videos.
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