This article first appeared in the April 2005 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
In January 2001, Nathan was born via Lamaze method to preschool teacher Kristine and business development manager Bart Canon. “His newborn screening test results were okay,” Kristine says. But they were advised to have a hearing test in three months.
The hearing test took a backseat, however, because of Nathan’s frequent bouts with cough and colds, and another hospital stay after a severe asthma attack. But Kristine recalls, “His doctor conducted behavioral hearing tests on Nathan during our checkups, and he seemed to respond to sudden noises and had eye contact.”
But when Nathan was a year and a half old, Kristine began to wonder why her child had yet to learn how to say “Mama” and “Papa.” So when Nathan was again hospitalized for herpagina (an infectious mouth disease characterized by high fever, vomiting, and abundant dribbling), the Canons decided to have their baby undergo another hearing test.
Silent shock The results of the auditory brain stem response test (ABR), which determines the softest level of sound that a person can hear, were a shock: Nathan has moderate hearing loss in one ear, and severe hearing loss in another. He can hear loud noises like the honking of cars, but not soft noises, especially speech and normal conversation.
“We didn’t expect it,” says Kristine. “Nathan dances to music and loves toys that make a sound, so we all thought he was okay.” Only later did it dawn on her that Nathan did not respond when called by his name. Since he couldn’t hear speech, the doctors also told them to expect Nathan’s speech to be delayed and that there was no way of knowing when he would learn to talk. They assumed that it was congenital since Kristine didn’t have measles during pregnancy, the primary cause of hearing loss in newborns. “And the dose of antibiotics he got for his jaundice was also not enough to cause it,” Kristine adds.
Ray of hope The Canons wondered what their child’s future would be like. “We then discovered that there are a lot of therapy choices for Nathan,” Kristine relates. Her sister-in-law, also a teacher, told her of some hearing-impaired kids in her class who go to a special therapy center where they learn how to listen and talk in a natural voice, without signing. The Canons decided that this is what they wanted for Nathan.
The Canons brought Nathan to CLASP Auditory Verbal Center, which teaches through the Auditory Verbal approach, a fairly recent but highly successful US-based method where children with hearing impairments ranging from severe to profoundly deaf attain comprehensible spoken language that is needed to function in the hearing world.
“We go to CLASP once a week, where the therapists give us a lesson plan to do at home. I trained my yayas to conduct the lessons as well,” shares Kristine.
Take two Around the time they discovered Nathan’s hearing loss, Kristine conceived again. “Kinabahan na ako, kasi around that time, my husband and I underwent a hearing test,” Kristine recalls. “My hearing was perfect, but Bart had moderate hearing loss in one ear and mild hearing loss in the other.” The hearing loss might be hereditary after all -- and they feared for their unborn baby.
Elija was born in August 2002, and the Canons immediately had him undergo the otoacoustic emission test (OAE), which measures the emission or echo from the inner ear when sounds are presented. He failed it. “We were told to have him tested again after three months, but we didn’t wait that long. We had him tested after a month,” Kristine says. The result of the second test was normal; Elija was babbling and responding to sound. But the Canons’ elation was shortlived when his third, fourth, and fifth tests all yielded the same result: moderate hearing loss in one ear and mild hearing loss in the other. “When we found out about Elija’s condition,” Kristine recalls, “it was like, ‘Bakit ganito?’”
Music to their ears But faith in God and love for family gave the Canons the strength they needed. “We’re over it already,” says Kristine. “All parents must realize that for your kids to have hope, you have to move on.”
Nathan and Elija both attend CLASP, and are progressing beautifully, Kristine happily notes. “After two years of therapy, the gap between Nathan’s speech age now is only a year and a half -- a really big achievement,” says Kristine. Elija’s therapy also helps him communicate with others. The Canons say that the important thing is to monitor that their hearing loss does not worsen.
Nathan and Elija also attend Create Learning Center, which Kristine co-owns. “I want my kids to have friends and playmates among kids who can hear and those who are hearing-impaired, so they would know that they are not alone.” A developmental pediatrician whom they consulted said that in all other areas -- cognitive, physical, socio-emotional -- Nathan is at par with other children his age.
Kristine recounts, “For their lola’s recent birthday celebration, the kids’ cousins had special presentations, like dance numbers for their lola.” But when Nathan went up to the mic and said, “Hapi Berdey, Yoya!” the Canons were just overwhelmed. “If you compare it with other kids’, their feats are small,” says Kristine, “but to us, it’s like winning the lottery.”
Sound advice “Hearing loss may be congenital or hereditary, genetic, or due to viral/bacterial diseases such as childhood measles, maternal rubella and meningitis infections,” says Liza Abaño, a pediatric audiologist at the Manila Hearing Aid.
Parents may notice signs of hearing difficulties in their children. “For example, if a baby does not respond to loud sounds like a barking dog, that could be a sign,” explains Abaño. “Other signs could be when he does not respond if you call them, or if he has delayed speech.”
If you suspect hearing problems, immediately bring your child to an EENT and an audiologist for testing and assessment. “The earlier the diagnosis of the hearing impairment is done, the better,” advises Abaño. “The critical age for a child’s development is from birth to four years, and if the impairment is diagnosed or identified within the first six months, and proper intervention is done, there are better chances of success.” A baby can already be fitted with a hearing aid to help him learn to respond to sounds.
Because of technological advances, there are more choices to help the impaired cope in the hearing world. “There are now analog and digital hearing aids,” says Abaño. There are also cochlear implants -- electronic devices surgically placed within the inner ear -- for severe to profoundly deaf people. But tests have to be done before a child could be given a cochlear implant.
The support of the whole family is important for a child with hearing loss and impairment. Abaño stresses, “Talk to the child, and encourage him to talk to you.”