When Only One Child has Hearing Loss: A Parent's Guide
While some hearing loss is caused by genetics and affects all children born to the same parents, there are many instances when only one child will have hearing loss. This can be due to illness, injury or exposure. It also happens in the case of adoption or blended families. Parents who have only one child with hearing loss have concerns many others do not deal with. In this guide, we provide advice for parents of children who do not all have hearing loss.
The Most Important Thing for Families With One Child with Hearing Loss
Before anything else it’s important to stress the most important thing: family members will view hearing loss in the way that the parents do and this will affect everything from family dynamics to how the children fair in academic and social settings. For that reason, it is imperative, even when hearing loss is late or sudden-onset, to not frame it as a negative. That said…
Having a child with hearing loss, especially in a normal-hearing family, is often met with grieving. This is a normal reaction but it can affect the children negatively, so the first thing to do is find support. Work with your child’s doctor, audiologist, school and community groups to find groups made up of other families of children with hearing loss and seek out families that also have one child with hearing loss with normal-hearing siblings.
Don’t Compare Apples and Oranges
While your children will get along and fight like all other siblings, and while your normal-hearing children will not think of the sibling with hearing loss as anything other than a sister or brother, your children do have a difference. And this difference is a challenge. There will be times when your child with hearing loss will react differently. Make sure to keep your expectations in line with this.
When it comes to communicating with your child with hearing loss it will sometimes look differently than your hearing children. That’s okay. In most cases, siblings won’t even notice.
Equal vs. Fair
“But that’s not FAIR!” is the rallying cry of children everywhere and keep that in mind when dealing with your kids. They will learn, if you model it, that equal and fair are both important but that they are different. For example: you love your children equally. Fairness, however, is more complicated. For example, your normal-hearing children won’t have to endure the morning and evening routines of taking care of their hearing aids. They won’t have to have the same check-in procedures at the beach, for example. Your child with hearing loss may feel they are being babied so be sure to set them up for success.
If your family is going to the beach, your child with hearing aids may feel punished or unfairly treated if they are always the last one to the water or the first one out. Build time into your schedule so that hearing aids are part of the parking lot routine. Get on the same page well before a trip about how you’ll handle safety. Have hearing aids being put back in and adjusted as part of the routine when your other children are packing their toys and belongings. By making sure everyone is getting equal time in the water, your children are less likely to balk that one is getting away with not doing chores while others are or that one is having less time to play in the water.
Preparing for the Teen Years
As children near high school they desperately seek independence. This can be hard for parents of children with hearing loss—after all, you’ve been an advocate for your child for a long time. But now your child—especially if they have older, normal-hearing siblings—will want to experience the same things at the same time their siblings did.
Yes, that means driving. And dating. It means staying home alone. Your child has been living in a world populated by normal-hearing role models, teachers, friends, and they have been treated as them. They’re going to want all of the responsibilities and independence that comes with growing up. And you’re going to give it to them.
How? By preparing. If your normal-hearing children can get their drivers’ licenses at 16, start asking questions about the process for children with hearing loss 12-18 months before. If your older kids could date when they reached high school, think about what that means for your child with hearing aids (it probably doesn’t make any difference, honestly, but you still may have reservations).
Remember, you’ve spent your child’s life helping them grow and be successful. Now you’re going to see the rewards of your excellent parenting. We know it’s difficult to let go but you’ll appreciate their independence.
In a family with one child with hearing loss, it can be easy for that child to get lost in the noise. Be mindful of your child’s communication needs. At meals and other times, make sure they are engaged in the conversation and that your other children look to them for input. If your child with a hearing impairment signs, your other children should always sign when having conversations in the room with that child.
Parenting children who do not all have hearing loss brings with it different challenges you will be able to face by remembering this advice.