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Treating Childhood Hearing Loss

'Hears' Good News

Devices to Treat Childhood Hearing Loss continued...

Neural hearing loss requires a different approach. Many children with this condition can be fitted with a hearing aid, sometimes even during the first few weeks of life. Keith tells WebMD that hearing aids have improved dramatically in the last few years. The new digital hearing aids analyze sound through a computer chip to amplify voices and filter out background noise. Some can be programmed to meet an individual's particular needs and may have a volume control feature that automatically amplifies soft voices without ever delivering a too-loud sound to the wearer's ear.

Although rare, there are people with hearing loss so profound or complete that hearing aids will not help. Fortunately, these individuals might benefit from a cochlear implant. This surgically-implanted device has wires that go from an external hearing aid directly into the auditory nerve. While it does not restore perfectly normal hearing, the device does allow profoundly deaf people to experience sound.

"These things are a miracle," says Keith about cochlear implants. "Children who are profoundly deaf who have cochlear implants have a much greater probability of developing speech and language than they ever did [without one]." Recently, Keith spoke on the phone with a formerly-deaf man who'd had a cochlear implant.

New Technologies for Learning and Language Development

New devices are also being developed to help hearing-impaired children benefit from the typical classroom environment. All children learn speech and language by hearing it in their surroundings, so the goal of these devices is to get as much speech stimulation to hearing-impaired children as possible.

Deborah R. Price, AuD, an audiologist who is owner and founder of Hearing Professional Center in Dallas, recommends that children use a personal FM system. With this device, the voice of a parent or teacher who speaks into a microphone is delivered right into the child's ear. Older children who have already learned basic reading and writing skills also benefit from two-way messaging systems, which are essentially portable email devices.

An intriguing new product for hearing impaired children is a 3-D computerized tutor called 'Baldi.' This is an animated head complete with mouth, teeth, and tongue. Baldi helps teach language by speaking to children while making the appropriate facial movements. Unlike parents and teachers, he never tires of repeating the same words again and again.

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