The University of Akron/NOAC
Picture this: You are in the sound booth, right in the middle of an audiologic assessment. A few missed head turns or latent ABR waves in, you realize that maybe these parents’ fear has been realized, and their child has a hearing loss. They’ve sat in your office, putting the puzzle pieces together of the child’s birth history, medical complications, and behaviors in the home. You now have concrete evidence, in the form of behavioral testing, an ABR, OAE’s, or whatever it may be. Now it is time to break the news to these parents that their child has a hearing impairment. Whether they are expecting it or not, you, the audiologist, have a job to do.
Despite coursework in pediatrics, counseling, and aural rehabilitation, many graduate student clinicians have never been in this situation. Even when evaluating pediatric patients of all ages and walks of life, the majority have not yet concretely identified and reported to parents a permanent, sensorineural hearing loss. As many clinicians would agree, I do not believe this is a skill that can be taught solely in the classroom. Some may feel that there has been a barrier between the clinician and the parent – what is appropriate to say, and what are these parents thinking about when they leave the office and return home with their child?
Learning from the True Experts
This past semester, that barrier crumbled a bit. In a pediatric amplification course, my professor, Dr. Mark Krumm, brought in four parents of children with hearing loss. These parents were all from the local area and had met in a support group. Their children had sensorineural hearing loss of varying degrees and were treated with hearing aids and cochlear implants, technology that I consider myself quite familiar with. However, one thing I do know is that it’s not about the technology. Hearing these parents’ testimonials about their relationships with their audiologists, their children, and their families was a truly eye-opening experience. The experience reminded my entire class that the parents of our pediatric patients are trying their best and have heartfelt compassion for their kids, and, no surprise – they know their children a whole lot better than we do. These parents know what makes their children tick, they know what the technology will and will not accomplish in their home, and they also probably know their audiologist’s cell phone number for when they will inevitably need it.
The parents who visited my class talked about the desire for a trusting, collaborative relationship with their audiologist, with referral to the appropriate professionals when we just don’t have all of the answers. An article published in the American Journal of Audiology confirmed these statements; parents and caregivers want their voices to be heard, and they want their child’s treatment implemented in a coordinated and professional manner. Fitzpatrick, et al. (2008) interviewed 21 parents about the strengths and weaknesses of the standard audiologic care system. Although most parents were satisfied with the range of services provided and the quality of services, they did have a few suggestions for us to consider. Family-centered care and a high level of support have been linked with higher rates of follow-up, better participation in early intervention services, and ultimately improved outcomes for the child.