One thing I love about kids is their eagerness to befriend others. Whenever we visit the playground, I enjoy watching these cute, little humans accept each other immediately and wholeheartedly—it makes my heart happy. So imagine my surprise when I encountered a recent study where elementary-aged children rated a specific group of their peers as having less acceptance. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine presented photos of children wearing hearing aids as well as children who did not wear them. The kids in the study, whose ages ranged from six to eleven, consistently rated those with hearing aids as having LESS peer acceptance. Researchers concluded that negative perception of hearing aids starts as young as six years old. SIX. YEARS. OLD.
I thought all that nonsense waited until at least middle school. Because my son used to wear hearing aids (and now has cochlear implants), this study awakened all the mama bear instincts. I started brainstorming strategies that would counteract negative perceptions of hearing technology. Six-year-olds don’t have tons of world experience, and therefore depend on the adults in their lives for much when it comes to forming perceptions—whether they be positive or negative (no pressure).
After thinking about our family’s journey with hearing loss, I came up with three steps that parents and children can implement to avoid forming negative perceptions: educate, explore, & advocate. Read on for more details on each step and for a look at some adorable kiddos with hearing technology who live here in the Alamo City!
Knowledge is power, right? When it comes to educating youngsters, I can’t think of a better tool than picture books. They’re the perfect way to see someone’s life experience that you might not see otherwise. Additionally books present information in a way that is engaging for little minds. Here are a few of my favorite books that will help you and your child become more familiar with hearing technology.
Even though this is part of a baby board book series, it’s perfect for explaining how we hear and how hearing technology works. A good introductory read for all!
This sweet book is all about ways to show kindness! It also has a child with a cochlear implant on a few pages.
Similarly Ricky’s story doesn’t focus on hearing technology but has a character with a bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA). The plot teaches valuable lessons on working together and helping each other.
El Deafo is a graphic novel that will be attractive to older kiddos. It shares the experience of Cece losing her hearing and wearing hearing aids, including what it’s like to be the only student who is deaf at school.
Now that you’ve spent time learning from books, start exploring toys, media, and real life examples of hearing technology. For example, in 2020, American Girl’s “Girl of the Year” was Joss. Joss, although fictional, is deaf and wears a hearing aid. When you buy a Joss doll from American Girl, she has an adorable doll-sized hearing aid. Imagine pointing this out to your daughter in elementary school. An example conversation might go something like:
“Honey, I heard about a new American Girl doll today. Her name is Joss. Do you want to see her picture? Here she is! Can you see what’s on her ear? Do you know what that is? Joss wears a hearing aid to help her hear. She also loves to surf and cheer. Do you have friends who do cheer? Do you have friends who wear hearing aids?”
Former Miss San Antonio, Emma Faye Rudkin, is someone else you could introduce your kids to! She wears hearing aids and advocates for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing through the non-profit Aid the Silent. She also recently started a children’s program on KLRN called Hank & Emma Faye. Be sure to tune in with your kiddos!
Now that you’ve educated and explored, it’s time to advocate (and let your kids advocate). In other words, be supportive and be a friend. Once a young boy was talking to my son while we waited at my daughter’s gymnastics class. His innocent curiosity prompted the question, “What are those on his head?” My son replied, “My CIs.” His mother quickly interjected, “No, no. Don’t ask about that.” I smiled at both of them and simply said, “His cochlear implants help him hear. His ears don’t work so when he takes them off he can’t hear you. When he wears them on his head, he can hear everything! Isn’t that cool?”
I totally understand where his mom was coming from. It’s hard to know what’s ok to say. Especially to strangers you just met! However, when it comes to hearing technology, let’s allow our kids to notice and ask questions. Allow them to make friends with those kiddos who wear hearing technology. I personally LOVE answering questions about it. Please do not be embarrassed! Before having my son I knew maybe five people with hearing aids (if you count grandparents). I didn’t know a single thing about cochlear implants or bone anchored hearing devices. We all want to be seen and understood. So say hi, ask questions, and encourage your kids to do the same!
Parenting is a hard gig. Merely keeping our offspring alive is challenging enough, let alone educating and preparing them to be kind, functional humans. These principles certainly apply to more than just those who have hearing aids and cochlear implants. We can help our children love all who experience life differently than they do—arguably one of the most important and most needed skills. Because no one should ever be perceived as less.