Ponto and the School Age Child - A Parent's Perspective
AudiologyOnline: Melissa, thanks for your time today. The last time we spoke with you, your daughter Ally was a toddler and using the Ponto bone anchored system. Ally is now six and a half - how have her hearing needs evolved?
Melissa Tumblin: As Ally has gotten older, I have noticed that she struggles with understanding what is explained to her whether someone is describing how to play a game or at school when her teachers are describing what they will be doing in class. Ally has a auditory processing disorder, in addition to her hearing loss, making it a challenge for her to process information that is explained to her, quickly. Ally performs much better when she is aided and does not appear to lose as much information when she is having things explained to her. Helping Ally be more of a visual learner has also helped her manage her hearing loss better. She is being taught to be alert and attentive. Also, now that Ally is older and able to communicate and advocate for herself, she understands how her hearing device helps her hear better. When Ally was younger, it was difficult trying to obtain information from her and feedback on what worked for her. Now, she is able to help me advocate with her.
AudiologyOnline: Ally has worn the Ponto from a very young age on the soft band. Given what you know now, would you make that same decision again?
Melissa: Yes. Ally began wearing the Ponto at 11 months of age. Ally is now 6.5 years old and if we had not discovered Ponto for Ally, she would have been struggling with her hearing loss. When Ally does not have her Ponto on, she questions things more by saying “what did you say mommy?” or “say that again.” She truly is hard of hearing and just doesn’t hear everything when she is not aided. When Ally is aided, she hears so much better and when I call for her, she looks in my direction and comes directly to me. When Ally is not wearing her Ponto, this does not happen and she looks all over for me. Ally is at the age now where she wears her Ponto every day, from morning until night. She also asks for her Ponto when I haven’t given it to her and she has begun advocating for herself with her hearing loss at school, at home, at dance class, at camps, and while playing with friends.
AudiologyOnline: It's great to hear about those benefits. Have you seen benefits in academic skills and social skills as well?
Melissa: Yes, absolutely. Before Ally was aided she really didn’t respond much and was very quiet. Ever since Ally has been aided, she is more vocal and I see her facial expression is so positive and lit up. Ally also enjoys listening to music more and singing in school. I know she is enjoying listening to music because she often comes home from school singing songs that she is learning word for word. This tells me that she is enjoying hearing music and hearing well enough to be able to recite songs on her own. I can see the excitement in her face and she is very outgoing now. She enjoys playing games with her peers and being out on the playground much more now because she can hear what her friends are asking her to do and what to play. I just watched her play a game of freeze tag at the park the other day with other kids and it made me smile that she could participate and know what to do. At school, her teachers say that she is very responsive, especially during story time. She listens and answers their questions and mimics the sounds that are made during the stories. Now that Ally is learning her alphabet, hearing is important to help her develop reading and higher language skills. She carries on very well with her friends, even in loud places such as the cafeteria and gym.
Ally and her doll both wearing their hearing devices.
AudiologyOnline: When Ally attends new situations like a new school or classroom, a new play group, or other social activities, how have you prepared her and others regarding use of the Ponto?
Melissa: Ever since Ally began attending preschool, all of her teachers have known about her Ponto. Her teachers help her with her Ponto when she needs help. The school audiologist also conducts periodic checks on Ally’s Ponto to make sure the volume is alright and everything is still in line with her hearing loss. Whenever we are around new friends or when Ally is in gymnastics or at a camp, we let everyone know that Ally has a hearing loss and that this is her hearing aid. Everyone has been great with helping Ally in all situations. If your child goes to a school where there is not a hearing loss program available, just make sure you talk with your child’s teachers about his/her hearing device and show them how the battery goes in and to maybe help make sure the hearing device stays on their head.
AudiologyOnline: You mentioned that now Ally is becoming her own advocate. Can you expand on that?
Melissa: Ally is very lucky as she attends a public school that offers a deaf and hard of hearing program, while being mainstreamed with her hearing peers in the same class. Ally has other children in class with her who also wear hearing devices, so she does not feel different. When Ally is around other children who do not have hearing loss and they ask, “What is that on you head?”, she just tells them that this is her hearing aid and that it helps her hear better. The younger kids usually think Ally’s Ponto is pretty cool because they think it is "bionic" or has "extra hearing power". Otherwise, Ally puts her Ponto on every morning when she gets ready for school just as she gets dressed and eats breakfast, and wears it straight through until bedtime. Ally used to ask to take her Ponto off after wearing it for so many hours. During the past couple of years, she keeps her Ponto on from morning until night. She also protects it when it rains.
When Ally was younger, I was the one always putting on her Ponto and making sure she wore it for so many minutes to hours at a time until she accepted wearing her hearing device for long enough periods. Over the past couple of years, we've taught her to advocate for herself in putting her hearing device on at school, when to ask for a new battery if the hearing device has stopped working, and how to connect to the FM system. If she ever needs a break from her Ponto, I of course allow her to take her hearing device off for a break. Ally is proud of her Ponto and she enjoys personalizing it too. She has a butterfly clip in place of the clip that comes with the safety line and she often likes to put stickers on her Ponto and bling it up for the holidays and for the school year. She has also put bows on her soft band head band that match her outfits.
AudiologyOnline: Does Ally use any accessories with her Ponto?
Melissa: Ally faithfully wears the Streamer at school, every day, with the school’s provided FM system. All of the kids in Ally’s class who wear hearing devices utilize the FM system so they can hear their best in gym class, music class, and in the regular classroom. Ally also enjoys using the Streamer to help her listen to her tablet, quietly, so no one else has to hear the loud sounds of games and movies when she is playing and watching them. The Streamer makes it easy for her to listen to her tablet without having to wear extra head phones that don’t stay on her head well - everything goes right through her Ponto, which fits her perfectly and easily. The Streamer has been an absolute life saver when we travel via plane, and also at her sister’s sports activities when it is paired with her tablet.
Ally using Ponto and the Streamer with her tablet.
AudiologyOnline: We know that each child is unique and everyone's situation is different. Given that, what general advice would you give to parents who have a child with hearing loss based on your experience?
Melissa: First, if your child has a hearing loss even if it is in one ear or minimal, always allow your child to try a hearing device if it is recommended. When someone has a hearing loss, especially a child, they may not tell you when they are struggling. Also, when someone has been challenged with hearing loss since birth, they may not realize how many sounds they are truly missing out on since they have never experienced hearing with two ears. Remember, one ear will never be as good as two ears.
2. Understand your child’s hearing loss. There is a reason why we have two ears. Two ears allow us to hear better when there is background noise, to hear softer sounds, and allow us to determine where sound is coming from. When someone only has hearing in one ear, they are missing out. Understand that someone with hearing loss may also struggle to hear in loud areas such as in restaurants or in areas where there are echoes. Realize that your child’s hearing loss may also change over time and that it is important to monitor their hearing loss through regular hearing tests with an audiologist.
3. Find what works best for you and your family, and learn how to advocate for your child. Inquire about an IEP (Individualize Education Plan) that can help customize a plan for your child so that they can achieve their maximum potential in school.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get the help you need. If your child uses a hearing device, ensure the device is optimally adjusted for your child. Hearing devices today are very smart and can be adjusted based on the child's environments and daily activities. Even if it takes several visits to the audiologist to optimally adjust the hearing device, It will be worth it for your child to hear better. Ask questions about the hearing device and learn how to get the most out of it. Understand how to dry the hearing device in the event it should get wet or rained on. Learn how to use the hearing device for your child's everyday needs, and learn how to use apps that can help make using the hearing device easier. Learn how to pair the hearing device wirelessly to tablets, to a mobile phone, and for streaming music. Learn about the accessories that may be available with the hearing device. For example, some hearing devices have accessories that connect to the TV, so your child can hear the TV volume consistently using their device, while other family members are listening to TV at their preferred volume.
5. Be persistent and do not get frustrated. When trying to aid a younger child (infant/toddler) with a hearing device, it isn’t always easy as younger children like to pull their hearing devices off/out. It may be a struggle to get your child to wear their hearing device for long periods of time. It is important to know that you are helping your child hear better already by simply getting them to wear their hearing device even if it is for only 5 to 20 minutes a day. Slowly work your way up to longer periods of time. Just keep trying and don’t get frustrated. You can use a timer and then when the timer dings, you can allow your child to take off their hearing device for a break. You can try to make it fun and play music or sing or dance when putting their hearing device on so they can connect a positive experience with their hearing device. Maybe personalize their hearing device with stickers your child would enjoy. It helps to wear a hearing device on a child when he/she is in an upright position rather than lying down to where the hearing device can be easily knocked off. Also, make it easy on yourself too as the parent...if your child makes you nervous wearing his/her hearing device while eating and you are concerned that your child will smear peanut butter and jelly in their hearing aid, then remove it while they eat and put it back on after they are done. Try not to stress about this because your child may pick up on your tension when working with their hearing device. Also, remember that kids just as well as adults may not always be willing to admit that they are having trouble hearing. Try and support your loved one and let them know that is no big deal to wear a hearing device, especially when they will be able to hear better, fit in better socially, and have more confidence. Encourage your loved one to just try a hearing device. It can only help and definitely won’t hurt and millions of people wear hearing devices today. Hearing devices are accepted more today than ever before.
6. Get connected to other parents and other families of children with hearing loss. Ask your child's audiologist about support groups or community groups in your area, and check out our online community, Ear Community. The emotional support of others who are in similar situations can make a big difference.
AudiologyOnline: Thank you for sharing your experience, Melissa. It is always a pleasure to talk with you.
Founder and Executive Director of the Ear Community
Melissa Tumblin is mom to Alyssa "Ally" Tumblin, a child born with right sided Microtia and Aural Atresia. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Ear Community, a nonprofit organization that promotes educational and public awareness about Microtia and Atresia and hearing loss, in an unbiased manner, while promoting advocacy and connecting individuals in the same situation. She is also the founder of the Microtia and Atresia Support Group on Facebook. She is a past board member for the Hands & Voices Organization and a past council member for the Parent Advocacy Family Council for Children's Hospital Colorado (Bill Daniels Center for Children's Hearing). She has spoken at microtia and atresia surgical conferences and has presented at past EAA (Educational Audiology Association) conferences and for AudiologyOnline. Melissa has over 15 years experience in marketing medical device equipment.