Creating awareness for children's hearing loss
From schools to non-profits to the halls of Congress, there is a challenge underway. That challenge? To increase awareness of childhood hearing loss. But planting the seed of awareness starts with understanding. From understanding the challenges faced by children with hearing impairment to understanding the importance of early intervention to understanding how to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, the goal is to foster better hearing health and lead to better, more inclusive lives for hearing impaired children.
Hearing impairment is the most common birth defect among newborns. According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, between one and six babies per 1000 are born with congenital hearing loss, yet one third of babies who fail their hearing screenings do not receive a confirmed diagnosis. And 25 percent of those who do receive a diagnosis fail to receive any follow up care whatsoever.
The data on children whose hearing has been damaged by excessive noise is even more shocking: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5 percent of kids and teens between the ages of six and 19 have at least some noise-induced hearing loss.
While lack of awareness has been a problem in the past, the tide may be turning. From bringing attention to the importance of early intervention to bringing educational programs into the classroom, the good news is that efforts to increase awareness of hearing loss in children are on the upswing. Three organizations in particular stand out for their successful and wide reaching hearing loss awareness campaigns:
The American Speech Language Hearing Association - Fortunately the subject of hearing safety is a frequent focus of awareness campaigns, as hearing loss due to the increased use of earbuds with mp3 players is on the rise. ASHA has implemented a very popular campaign called Listen to Your Buds geared toward younger children; the campaign features a pair of cartoon earbuds that appear on items such as banners, stickers and screensavers. The goal is to remind children to turn down the volume on their personal devices and to keep certain “rules of thumb” in mind when listening.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders - For older children, NIDCD offers a campaign called It's a Noisy Planet: Protect Their Hearing. Designed to be interactive, as well as to involve parents in helping to protect their children’s hearing, the site contains games, posters, and information about noise and hearing loss tailored specifically for tweens. It advises parents about all aspects of noise induced hearing loss, from the causes to prevention to recognizing situations which could put their child’s hearing at risk.
The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing - AG Bell recently took part in MediaPlanet’s annual Vision and Hearing Health Campaign, reaching over 1.3 million USA Today readers with an advertisement and an accompanying article about the importance of newborn hearing screenings. The ad featured a photo of a parent and child, with the caption “Today, my deaf son heard me call his name. He spoke the words ‘I love you.’” The ad encouraged readers to learn more about helping children with hearing impairment or hearing loss communicate by utilizing AG Bell’s online resources. The goal of the ad and article was to increase public awareness of the importance of hearing intervention, so that children have a chance to be on par with their peers when it comes to language development. “This ad conveys a simple but emotionally powerful message by highlighting the abilities of children who are deaf and hard of hearing today to listen and talk in everyday interactions,” said AG Bell president Meredith Sugar. AG bell encouraged its community members to share the ad through social media for even greater reach.
Political action also helps to increase awareness, as recent legislation introduced by Sen. Dale Zorn of Michigan proves. Aided by Miss Michigan 2014 KT Maviglia, who wears bilateral hearing aids as a result of being diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss as a child, Zorn announced Senate Bill 449 to help ensure all children in his home state of Michigan can get the hearing assistive devices they need, with new ones every three years until they turn 21. The legislation would make hearing aid coverage under insurance mandatory.
When it comes to reaching a younger audience, though, sometimes nothing is as effective as a good story. To that end, several authors are also taking up the cause; an increasing number of children’s books are available to choose from which feature hearing impaired main characters. Based on her experiences growing up with hearing loss, author and illustrator Cece Bell has written a graphic novel called El Deafo with a main character who imagines herself as a superhero, based on the “super” hearing abilities afforded by her Phonic Ear. And author Melanie Paticoff has created a series of books called Sophie’s Tales, chronicling a little white dog’s journey through hearing loss and cochlear implant surgery.
Contact your local AG Bell chapter or your local HLAA chapter about bringing a program to your school or community organization. You can also call your local congressman to express your support for hearing loss legislation, whether on a local or national level.