Dude 3 failed his first hearing test shortly after his fourth birthday.
We’d gone in for a routine physical –height and weight, blood pressure, reflexes, mobility. He could touch his toes, stand on one foot, spell his name –everything they want a kid who just turned four to be able to do, and a few extra things to keep life interesting.
They checked his vision, gave me the paperwork regarding whatever shots he was in the market for, talked a bit about some additional allergy testing, and then moved us into another room for the hearing screening.
They explained how the test would work, raise your hand by the ear you hear a sound in, and then popped the old school looking headphones on his little head and got to work performing the hearing test.
I remember sitting in the chair beside him, thinking how odd it was that he only raised his hand a few times. I remember looking from him to the nurse wondering if she’d started, and the curiosity on her face as she watched him swing his legs and keep both of his little hands in his lap.
I remember that she finished. Left for a few moments. Came back and said they needed to run the test again.
It went the same –he sat in his too big chair, swinging his little legs, smiling at me, raising his hand only occasionally, mostly not at all.
When he finished I scooped him out of the chair and into my lap because I knew.
I knew he failed and all of the fears about why and how and what next came rushing through my mind.
The nurse moved us back into the pediatrician’s office where we waited for him to come and tell us the news –that my child had failed his hearing test.
He asked me a bunch of questions: did he respond to loud noises, answer when we called his name, have trouble with verbal expression, seem like he couldn’t hear?
Yes, yes, no, he never stops talking, but now that you mention it…
We had a lot of misunderstandings at home –he’d hear, “There’s a ghost!” When really I’d said, “You have the most.”
He said what and huh a lot, and he asked questions frequently, but we kinda thought it was more selective listening than anything else. Or we’d hoped anyway.
But it was something else and the doctor wrote us a referral to see the ENT in town to find out what that something was.
We left the office, me wondering how I missed this, him begging for a donut from the shop across the parking lot like always.
A few weeks later, following our hour long appointment where he spent time with the audiologist who took him into a huge room and sat him in a huge chair and and ran tests while I watched him through a huge window, it was determined that he was suffering from temporary conductive hearing loss as a result of chronic allergies and ear fluid.
They put us on medication, and began a series of interventions and treatments that continue today (he will finally be having his adenoids and his tonsils removed in a few months).
Over the past four years, he’s had episodes of hearing loss and recovery 5 separate times since his initial diagnosis –the most recent at the beginning of summer.
Sometimes they last for a few weeks, sometimes they last for a few months. Each time they teach me something new.
Hearing Loss in Kids: 6 Things to Know When Your Child Fails Their Hearing Screening
1. There are a number of reasons your child may fail an in office hearing screening. Sometimes it may just a mistake, on the part of your screener or your child. Sometimes it may be because your child is truly having difficulty hearing. If so, your journey is just beginning.
2. Temporary hearing loss can be caused by a number of things. It is common for children to suffer mild, temporary conductive hearing loss following an ear infection. Fluid build up can also be an issue that prevents your child from hearing all of the words all of the time.
3. The treatment options vary. Everything from “let’s wait and see” to “schedule this surgery” have been offered to us. Schedule this surgery is where we are at now. We are having Dude 3’s adenoids and tonsils removed to help eliminate some of the fluid drainage issues, ear and throat infections, and structural issues he is facing.
4. It’s important to note the warning signs. Things like startling when there are loud noises, smiling when spoken to, and verbalizing sounds are normal for young babies. If you note your child isn’t doing these things you should mention it to your doctor. Because so much language development occurs between birth and 4 years old, it’s super important your child can hear to learn. We are fortunate that Dude 3 didn’t develop hearing loss until language was largely established. This hearing checklist will help you know if your child is able to hear correctly or if you may need to bring it up at your next doctor’s appointment.
5. Follow up with your doctors is super important too. You can’t eyeball an ear and see if it’s working. You can’t look in there with your eye and make sure it’s clear and that sound can make it into the brain correctly. Only a for real doctor can do that and even she will require some special tools. If your child has an ear infection, you really need to stay in touch with your medical practitioner (i.e. don’t skip that two week follow-up they like to schedule) so that they can ensure your child is improving as expected. Untreated middle ear infections can definitely lead to hearing loss.
6. Be conscious of their situation. My son had hearing loss in only one ear the first time. That seemed like a win (because at least one ear was working), but it actually made it very hard for him to understand what people were saying to him when there was background noise around. That’s super frustrating for a kid at school or other places where other kids go and he had a lot of really hard days where basically everyone who talked to him sounded like the teacher in Peanuts. Can you imagine how scary and frustrating that had to be?! If your child is suffering from hearing loss, let the people around him know so they can remember to speak clearly, to look at him when they are speaking, and to make sure he understands instructions before moving on.
Please know that I am not a doctor. I am just a mom, with a kid, who has all of the things. If you suspect your child is suffering from hearing loss, please make an appointment to see your doctor. They’re the smart ones.