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A Little Hard of Hearing

by Katie Reed

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It has been suggested to us numerous times by family, friends and teachers that Dexter might have a problem with his ears. While developmentally on target, it has definitely been evident to all those who interact with him that he doesn’t respond very well to verbal cues. And while he can sing a number of songs completely on key, the words and phrases that come out of his mouth are garbled and difficult to decipher.

There’s a family history on both sides of hearing loss, and I think Mark and I both recognized the tell-tale signs that all was not well with him. Add to this the fact that he has NEVER passed a single hearing test (including his newborn assessment), and there was cause for concern. So when we returned home after our trip to Utah a couple of months ago, I took him to the doctor and demanded they take a closer look.

Our normal doctor was not in attendance that day, and the “other guy” we had never seen before. But thank God we did, because he was appalled that we had not been dealt with sooner. He could see from his file that Dex had repeatedly failed hearing tests, and he asked what reason we were given for nothing being done. I told him that the doctor had always blamed it on the equipment or his thought that Dex might have a cold. He was astounded. He immediately set about looking in Dexter’s ears, and he saw that there was quite a large amount of wax. He said that this was likely the reason for all the failure, and he set about personally cleaning his ears with a long plastic apparatus. The sheer volume of wax he pulled out of that kid was incredible! I could TOTALLY see how it would cause him not to hear properly.

But sadly, after cleaning them thoroughly, Dexter immediately failed yet another test. That was enough for our doctor to refer us to an audiologist.

So this afternoon, Mark and I gathered him up and drove nearly an hour away to the Central Florida Speech and Hearing Center in Lakeland to have further tests done.

children's hearing test

Our doctor was lovely, and she explained the tests she would run. She asked me to hold Dexter in my lap so that she could look in his ears. Immediately, he got very upset and buried his head in my chest, refusing to look at her. She got out a big stuffed Mickey Mouse and showed him how she could use the instrument on him. When she offered to let Dexter look in Mickey’s ears, he got a little less upset, but he still wasn’t interested in being touched.

children's hearing test

After a bit, he calmed down enough to allow her to look in his ears, where she immediately reiterated what the doctor had 6 weeks ago: the kid has an abundance of wax. She explained that they couldn’t clean his ears there because they had no medical doctors on staff who could treat him should they go in too deep. So she would have to run the tests anyway, but we’d have to understand that they wouldn’t be conclusive results.

She first inserted a couple of padded ear buds into his ears to check to see if his eardrum vibrated or not. Unfortunately, neither eardrum did, which meant that none of the sound was able to penetrate the earwax. She also suggested that he may have fluid behind his ear drums, which would be a double whammy of hearing problems.

children's hearing test

She decided to try some headphones on him and had another helper come in to assist. Dexter had to listen to her voice in the headphones and identify the correct picture based on what she said. He had some problems, but he was able to identify them fairly well, we thought.

children's hearing test

He was not overly enthusiastic about it, but he did keep the headphones on and participated well.

children's hearing test

His favorite test involved a game with small plastic balls. He was given one at a time, and every time he heard a beep, he was told to throw the ball in a bin. He did this fairly well, but it was obvious that if he DIDN’T hear a beep, he was still throwing the ball, so results weren’t totally conclusive.

Once these tests were finished, the doctor told us that he definitely showed hearing loss of around 35 decibels. The high end of normal is 15.  She wanted to run one more test, which would test direct bone stimulation and would bypass all the wax. At that test, he tested at -10 decibels! Clearly the wax is a problem!

So here’s what I’ve found out about what it all means:

From 2Hear.com:

At 20 dB, a child can miss 25-40% of speech signal. The degree of difficulty experienced in school will depend upon the noise level in the classroom, distance from teacher and the configuration of the hearing loss. Without amplification, the child with 35-40 dB loss may miss at least 50% of class discussions, especially when voices are faint or the speaker is not in line of vision. Will miss consonants, especially when a high frequency hearing loss is present.

So the hearing loss is definitely a problem. But how much of a problem, we won’t know until we can get his ears completely clean and retested.

So now we wait. We will be working with our pediatrician and possibly an ENT specialist to get a good ear cleaning regime down, and hopefully our next trip to the audiologist (which will be mid-January) will provide more insight. The doctor is confident that we can reverse any damage done and eventually work on his speech so that he’ll be okay going forward. But for the moment, we just have to make sure to keep background noises to a minimum, get down on his level to speak to him and not get too aggravated when he seems to be ignoring us.

I look forward to a future where he hears and speaks normally.

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