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03 What is Early Intervention?

So Your Child has a Hearing Loss: Next Steps for Parents

"Early intervention" means starting a specialized program to help your child right away! We introduce the term since you will hear it used frequently by professionals. Time is of the essence because a child's brain is programmed to learn language during the first six years of life-the first three years being the most critical. After this period, it is very difficult to acquire language and speech skills. Therefore, the earlier the intervention starts, the less of the precious six-year "window of opportunity" is lost.

Early intervention can take many forms, such as getting children fitted for hearing aids, providing counseling and support for parents, and teaching parents how to stimulate speech and language in their child.

One of the first steps will be to get hearing aids for your child. Depending on the degree of your child's loss, hearing aids will ideally enable your baby to hear many sounds. This includes both environmental sounds (for example, the sound of a rattle or a dog barking) and the sounds of speech. Basically, hearing aids work by boosting the intensity ("loudness") level of sounds at different frequencies ("pitches"). Higher-frequency sounds, such as "t", "p" and "s", need a greater loudness boost to be heard than low frequency sounds, such as "a", "o" and "ah". Hearing aids can be programmed to fit the needs of individual hearing patterns, such as boosting intensity level for high frequency sounds that your child may not hear at all and less for low frequency sounds that your child may hear better.

Hearing aids have improved dramatically in recent years-some have built-in FM systems and directional microphones which can reduce (but not eliminate) background noise. Speak to your audiologist about the options available to your child and what technology may best suit his or her needs.

Regardless, hearing aids do not correct hearing as perfectly as glasses correct vision. Individual sounds may be somewhat distorted. Because hearing aids amplify all sounds, including background noise, it may still be difficult for your baby to hear and understand speech in noisy situations unless you are standing close by.

How Hearing Aids Work: A hearing aid is an electronic, battery-operated device that amplifies sound to improve listening comprehension. Hearing aids receive sound through a microphone, then convert it to electronic signals, which are then amplified and sent to the ear through a tiny speaker. Your audiologist will select a hearing aid that provides amplified sound across the pitch range in which your child has difficulty hearing but that is still comfortable across the pitch range in which he/she has usable hearing.

Your audiologist will fine-tune the amount of amplification the hearing aids provide based on your child's loss. Even a child with a mild hearing loss may need amplification. By analyzing the audiogram, your audiologist can learn what loss your child has. The diagram below offers a simplified explanation of what your child's audiogram says about his/her hearing loss.


If your child... Then...
Can hear low-pitched sounds but not high sounds The audiogram is classified as a "sloping" configuration
Can hear high-pitched sounds but not sounds that are low in pitch The audiogram is classified as a "rising" configuration
Requires the same amount of amplification to hear a sound, regardless of its pitch The audiogram is classified as a "flat" configuration

© 2011 by Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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