“Why is your child wearing hearing aids?”

child wearing hearing aids

My daughter Raina had hearing aids for less than an hour when we first got the question: “What’s on her ears?”

It was asked by an elderly couple walking by our table at a busy highway rest stop. I noticed the man was himself wearing hearing aids. It’s interesting how the same technology that is self-explanatory on an adult suddenly puzzles people when used on a baby. People want to know why my child is wearing hearing aids.

“She wears hearing aids,” I said, suppressing my emotions. “She’s hard of hearing.”

Raina was only three months old. Her diagnosis, moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, was very new to me. I hadn’t spoken publicly about it before. I still had issues with acceptance and now complete strangers were asking me about her condition.

“She’s beautiful,” the woman said, smiling kindly. “Congratulations on your precious baby.”

As I thanked her and they departed, I felt a wave of relief overcome me. Instead of pity or sympathy, she’d offered her support. In many ways, it was a wonderful interaction.

So, what’s on her ears?

Since that day, we’ve gotten the question “What’s on her ears?” many more times. I’ve become so good at anticipating this question that now I offer up the answer at the first hint of curiosity. A stranger may stare, blush and look away and I can tell that’s what they want to ask.

“She wears hearing aids because she’s hard of hearing,” I’ll say. “They have a blinking light so that we know they’re working.”

“She wears hearing aids because she’s hard of hearing,” I’ll say. “They have a blinking light so that we know they’re working.”

It’s hard to acknowledge my child’s differences openly but when asked point-blank, what else can I do? I can either open up and educate or break down and cry, and I wasn’t about to do the latter. 

Universal newborn hearing screenings are a relatively recent phenomenon. Although more babies are wearing hearing aids than ever before, the average person probably has never seen it. They genuinely don’t understand what a hearing aid is.

“Just like glasses help me see better, hearing aids help her hear better,” I’ve gotten used to saying.

It can be emotionally taxing to explain why my daughter wears hearing aids. This was especially true in the early days of diagnosis, which also happens to be when questions about her hearing aids are asked the most.

An adjustment to baby’s first hearing aids is a process. It’s certainly okay to politely decline to discuss it, if that’s what feels best. Especially when emotions are raw. But for me, the most effective approach has been to adopt an attitude of cheerful acceptance.

A mirror of emotions

Generally speaking, I’ve found that people reflect our own emotions back at us. If I’m cagey and defensive, so are they. When I respond with confidence and acceptance, so do they. 

“If I’m cagey and defensive, so are they. When I respond with confidence and acceptance, so do they.”

“The technology is amazing! We are so grateful she got it this young,” I’ll say. “When she’s older, she’ll be able to stream phone calls and music directly into her hearing aids.”

“That’s so cool!” is a common response.

In my experience, the average person is fascinated by and eager to learn about infant hearing technology. Instead of cringing at a stranger’s prying question, I see it as an educational opportunity.

Read more: “What’s in your ears?”: How we answer questions about our children’s hearing aids

“These hearing aids will enable her to develop language at the same rate as her hearing peers,” I’ll say. “They give her access to sounds she couldn’t otherwise hear.”

As parents, we want to model healthy behaviors for our children. I never want Raina’s hearing aids to be a source of shame or embarrassment so I try not to let myself become embarrassed when discussing them.

One day my daughter will be old enough to answer this question for herself. When that day comes, I want her to feel at ease and confident. Hopefully, we’ve shown her how to do that.

Two other moms share their experience with the question, “What’s on her ears?”

Cara @cdshan

child wearing hearing aids

I get asked that question a lot. Mostly by curious older kiddos, students in my son’s preschool, or whenever we’re at a playground or park. When a kid (or occasionally an adult) asks, I feel like it’s a great opportunity to create acceptance, to learn about something new, and to promote awareness.

“I’m so glad you asked!” Is what I first say in my usual response.  “These are her super ears, they’re called hearing aids, and they help her ears hear all the sounds.”

“These are her super ears, they’re called hearing aids, and they help her ears hear all the sounds.”

Sometimes they’ll ask for elaboration, then I’ll tell them that’s how Gwen was born and it’s kind of like needing to wear glasses. Then I’ll ask them if they know someone that wears glasses. Usually, the conversation will gravitate towards that.

I love how curious kids are. Adults are the ones who end up being the biggest barriers to inclusiveness, creating a social barrier and not letting kids form their own opinions about someone’s differences.  The more normalized it is for us to respond and help educate, the more normal it will be for my daughter to get to share her own story in her own words.

Sara @saraelizcook

child with hearing aids

I have been asked the question by kids, but never by adults. I actually read about it somewhere before my son was aided and so I felt prepared for the questions. Usually, I say things like, “They are his hearing aids. They help him to hear. His ears can’t hear all sounds, so he wears hearing aids to help him hear everything.” I’ve also been asked by a kid if he could try them on. That one I was surprised at!

How do you respond when someone asks about your child’s hearing aids? Let us know in the comments.

Morgan Snook is a writer from the Pennsylvania Wilds region. She enjoys being outdoors with her husband and two beautiful daughters.
Her youngest daughter has mild-to-moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, probably genetic. She wears Phonak Sky hearing aids, which she got at three months old.

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