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What It's Like to Be Hearing Impaired

How Is Hearing Impairment Treated?
Many kids with conductive hearing loss can be treated with medicine or an operation. Most of these kids will be able to hear normally again.

For kids with sensory hearing loss, there is no medical treatment. It can't be fixed with surgery or medicine the way conductive hearing loss can.

Kids with sensory hearing loss and nontreatable conductive hearing loss may need to wear hearing aids. Most of these kids wear hearing aids in both ears but may wear just one if the hearing loss is only in one ear or if only one ear can be aided. Hearing aids can be worn behind or inside the outer ear; others have a part that is also worn on the body.

Hearing aids work by using a tiny microphone to pick up sounds, an amplifier to selectively make these sounds louder, and a receiver - very similar to a sound system, only much smaller! The hearing aid delivers the amplified sounds via sound vibrations from the eardrum and middle ear to the inner ear or cochlea. Like a sound system, hearing aids also have a volume control, so a kid can turn the hearing aid up or down. An audiologist does special tests to determine which hearing aids will work best for each child.

For some kids who are not able to hear or understand words even with the help of hearing aids, there is a device called a cochlear implant (say: coke-lee-ur imm-plant). This is a very tiny piece of electronic equipment that is put into the cochlea during an operation. It uses electrical signals to stimulate delivery of signals from the cochlea to the hearing nerve. It takes over the job of the damaged or destroyed hair cells in the cochlea by working directly with the hearing nerve.

How Do Kids With Hearing Impairments Learn?
It depends on the kid! Some deaf kids may attend special schools just for deaf students. Others may attend special classes held at a school for hearing kids. Some schools may have special classes for hearing-impaired students, and then the hearing-impaired kids join up with hearing kids for a few classes during the day.

Some kids with a hearing impairment may take regular classes in a school for hearing kids. They sit near the front of the room to hear the teacher better and may use a special device called an FM system in the classroom. FM systems emphasize the teacher's voice by making it louder and can help kids hear in crowded or noisy classrooms.

How Do Kids With Hearing Impairments Communicate?
Depending on how severe their hearing loss is, some kids may work with audiologists or speech-language pathologists to help them develop their hearing and speaking skills. Also, kids may learn to lip-read, which involves looking closely at a person's lips to help figure out spoken words. Many severely hearing-impaired kids learn American Sign Language (ASL). Remember the man next to the singer at the big game? He was using ASL, a language of hand movements that allows deaf people to communicate with one another without speaking. ASL is just one system of sign language that may be taught to hearing-impaired students.

Kids with severe hearing impairments can communicate on the phone by using a special communication device developed for deaf people. It is called the TDD, and it allows the conversation to be typed out instead of spoken. The messages appear on a special screen or on a printout. Closed-captioned TV shows and videos mean that deaf kids can understand what the hero of the movie is saying or even catch a favorite cartoon alongside kids who can hear. As the people in the movie or the show speak, the words scroll across the bottom of the screen. Many shows on TV are now closed-captioned, so you may have noticed it already.

Kids who are hearing impaired are not very different from kids who don't have a hearing impairment. In fact, deaf kids can do pretty much anything that hearing kids can do! The main difference is that they may have to communicate in a special way. Kids who have a hearing impairment can go on to college, get jobs, have families, and do almost any job they like. In fact, there is even a special university in the United States that is just for hearing-impaired students. When deaf kids grow older, they may get hearing-ear dogs or other special devices that alert them to a problem without depending on sounds.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 1999

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