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Hearing aids for children of any age

Christiane Schubert has been working for the Sonova Group’s Phonak pediatric audiology team since 2010. Her goal is to enhance children’s future prospects by improving their hearing.

Christiane Schubert has been working for the Sonova Group’s Phonak pediatric audiology team since 2010. Her goal is to enhance children’s future prospects by improving their hearing. 

Phonak has been supplying hearing solutions for more than 70 years and its portfolio includes a suite of innovative and easy-to-use products specially designed for children. Phonak pediatric audiology expert Christiane Schubert reports on how hearing aids are improving quality of life for children with hearing loss.

The Sonova brand Phonak has been developing hearing solutions for 70 years and has decades of experience in pediatric audiology. Did that help tip the balance in making you say “that’s where I want to work!”

Absolutely. I am always delighted when I get feedback from parents and pediatric audiologists that a child is learning to speak or is suddenly getting good marks in school because he or she can hear again, thanks to our products. Child-appropriate hearing solutions have been consistently improved over the years and are continually being refined, as is demonstrated by the fantastic outcomes with children for whom a hearing aid provides so much security in their everyday life.

Children are not just mini adults. What features does a child’s hearing aid have to provide?

It has to be robust, ideally dustproof and waterproof, as children tend to dive head first into puddles and sandpits. The battery compartments need a child lock, and the earhook , through which the sound travels from the earpiece into the ear, has to be firmly attached to the device; there is an additional little screw to hold it in place for children.

Is the cliché true then – girls pick pink, boys pick blue?

The best-selling colors are indeed blue and pink, and purple as well. With girls, I tend to see purple or pink devices, decorated with glitter or stickers, while boys often go for skull stickers or the crest of their favorite football team. Quite a few even have the team in mind when choosing the color and go for a blue and red hearing aid for Bayern Munich, for example.

How important is it that a child can hear from the outset?

A child has to be “pushed” acoustically as early as possible so the necessary nerve connections can be laid down in the hearing organ – this occurs during the first years of life in particular, and is why all children right across Germany have been screened since 2009 as part of their first medical check-up. The best possible care pathway with a hearing aid or cochlear implant has to be found for a child with hearing loss before his or her first birthday!

So how early is that possible?

Our pediatric audiologists tell us of children who are somewhere between four and eight weeks of age. Fortunately, the parents always bring their children to the pediatric audiologist for fitting earlier, just after the newborn hearing screening. The first three years of life are especially important for the best possible start to language development.

Children hear differently from adults – how is this important for a hearing aid?

Children have more problems in concentrating than adults when there is loud background noise. This is why Phonak devices are programmed to be able to adapt to the situation – in school for example: you have to be able to hear a teacher clearly, despite the background noise. Wireless systems like Roger, which use a microphone to capture the teacher’s voice and digitally transmit it to the child’s receiver, can significantly improve teaching conditions. Intrusive noise is not picked up and the useful signal goes directly to the children’s ears, allowing them to follow the lesson more easily.

From what level of hearing loss is a wireless system like that advisable?

Wireless systems can also be helpful for children with mild hearing loss; I remember a girl from near Bayreuth who was often tired and on a short fuse. Her attending audiologist provided a wireless system off his own bat, and lo and behold – her marks at school improved, the girl was better able to integrate and was more relaxed than before. In a borderline case like this, statements from the teachers and parents were then also enough to convince the health insurance company to cover the cost of a complete wireless system with multiple transmitters.

It can be difficult even for people with normal hearing to follow a teacher in a loud classroom.

Support is also available for children unaffected by hearing loss, using specially developed systems that Phonak calls System Dynamic SoundField. The teacher’s voice is transmitted into the room in all directions using a loudspeaker system. Studies have shown that such systems make children more attentive and improve their concentration, and the teacher does not have to speak as loudly – not least as lessons in classes with such equipment are quieter.

How can you make a hearing aid appealing to a child?

It’s different with every child, and it also depends on the age and the degree of hearing loss. I know from experience that toddlers with profound hearing loss will accept hearing aids more readily as they notice that there are new sounds and noises, and they can hear their mom’s voice differently as it is suddenly clearer and more striking.

What role does Leo, the Phonak lion cub, play?

Leo wears hearing aids and is very popular with younger children in particular. They like to take home the Leo books, which explain what hearing aids are and when you should wear them. I remember one girl who didn’t want to wear hearing aids until she saw Leo – and that motivated her to use the devices. 

So the playful approach really does help?

In the USA, there was a mother whose son didn’t want to wear hearing aids and who got in touch with the Marvel comic company as the child was a Superman fan. Marvel responded by developing a superhero who wears hearing aids – and who gets his superpowers through his hearing instruments. Taking steps like that helps to boost acceptance amongst children.

How important is a direct line to audiologists for the Phonak pediatrics department?

Very important! We always want to know how our products are being received. What can we improve? What else is needed that is not there yet? That’s where we need to brainstorm and we work closely with our pediatric audiologists on this front.

If you yourself had a child with hearing loss, what would you do?

I would get my child fitted with a hearing aid as early as possible, and also make sure that he or she was really wearing the device. I would try to follow the advice I give other mothers myself: speak slowly and also let your child see the shape your mouth is forming. If the child doesn’t understand straight away, I’d rephrase what I’ve said. And I’d take the child to be trained by a speech therapist.