An autism expert offers advice on what steps to take if you discover your child has difficulty hearing.
So, you have just discovered your child with autism also has hearing loss. Now, you are left wondering what more could possibly be added to your plate? Take a breath and realize that this is just another component of your child and, with the proper assistance, he/she can continue to thrive.
Consider these ideas to help you along:
Get a proper diagnosis
Your first priority is getting an appointment with an audiologist. You should inform the audiologist ahead of time that your child has autism.
You may find your audiologist has experience working with children with autism and that would be fantastic. Such an audiologist may know how to reassure your child when it is time to go into the soundproof booth. Together, you can brainstorm how to properly test your child if he/she refuses to wear headphones during the testing.
Allowing your child to bring a preferred item with him/her to the hearing screening may offer reassurance when he/she needs to leave you for the evaluation. These are all things that will need to be reviewed with the audiologist to ensure a successful screening process.
Understand your child’s hearing loss
After the evaluation, your audiologist will explain your child’s hearing loss to you. Your child may have either conductive, sensorineural, or mixed hearing loss. Conductive losses can generally be repaired medically. It may be an ear wax problem, fluid in the middle ear, trauma to the outer ear, etc.
Sensorineural hearing losses generally mean damage to the cochlear that may not be able to be repaired medically. A mixed loss would mean your child has both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Your audiologist will also be able to expand on the degree of hearing loss that your child has. If your child has mild or moderate hearing loss, then he/she is hard-of-hearing. A child with severe or profound hearing loss is considered deaf.
Your autistic child may require speech and language therapy to assist with his/her hearing loss. He/she may need to work on articulation skills or develop and expand receptive and expressive language skills. Your child may also need assistance with his/her “pragmatic skills”, which involve social language skills.
Teacher of the Deaf
If your child with autism is already on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) then you’ll need to let his/her special education team know that he/she may benefit from services from a Teacher of the Deaf (TOD).
TODs can work on assisting your child with sign language skills, spoken language, hearing aid maintenance, developing listening skills, accessing and utilizing an interpreter or notetaker, etc. TODs can also help to explain all the accommodations that may be involved for your child while in the classroom.
You’ll need to work with all the teachers involved in your child’s education. They need to be reminded to provide preferential seating in all their classes. This will allow your child to see the teacher’s mouth if he/she is lip reading or have clear access to watch a sign language interpreter in the classroom.
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As your child’s biggest advocate, you’ll need to become educated on the different programs and communication styles available. A Total Communication Program utilizes a combination of speech skills as well as American Sign Language (ASL). An Aural/Oral Program utilizes speech and lipreading. These students would not be exposed to American Sign Language. Finally, an Auditory-Verbal Program involves speech and listening skills. The student is generally not given access to lipreading. As a parent, you’ll have to make the decision as to which program you want your child placed in.
Educators often need to be reminded to provide captioning when showing a movie to the class. There is nothing more frustrating than having hearing loss and trying to understand a movie. The frustration experienced by your child with autism can manifest behaviorally, which could have been avoided simply by providing captioning. Having a movie captioned can also assist your child with developing his/her reading skills.
Hearing aids/FM systems
Your audiologist may recommend your child get a hearing aid. He/she may not like wearing one in their ear canal, so you may have to “ease” him/her into the process. Don’t expect your child to wear their hearing aid all day at school when he/she first receives it. Try only wearing it for 20-30 minutes a day. Your child may complain that the lunchroom or gym is too noisy with a hearing aid on.
We don’t want children taking their hearing aids off at school as they might lose them. Hearing aids are expensive and are often not covered by insurance. A child needs to be taught how to simply turn the hearing aid down.
Your TOD may also recommend that your child wear an FM device in school. The classroom teacher would wear a microphone and your child would have direct access to the teacher’s voice.
Assistive listening devices
There are many assistive listening devices available on the market for children with hearing loss. Your child might benefit from the use of a Telephone Device for the Deaf (TDD), a flashing fire alarm in your home, a flashing doorbell signal, a hearing-ear dog, a vibrating alarm clock, etc. These devices can be pricey for working-class parents. However, there are many service agencies out in the local community that may work with you to obtain these devices.
It will be essential for your child with autism and hearing loss to meet other children or adults who are hard-of-hearing or deaf. The deaf community is full of free resources that both your child and your family can benefit from. You’ll get the opportunity to meet a wide array of hard-of-hearing and deaf individuals from all walks of life. You can share your frustrations and seek advice from other parents. The deaf community can provide your family with a wealth of information.
This article was featured in Issue 124 – Autism Around the World