If you are the parent of a child who suffers from both autism spectrum disorder and hearing loss, you may not be especially excited about the prospect of adding a medical device like a hearing aid into the mix. The hypersensitivity of autism can make even light contact with objects painful and irritating to your child, and a sudden influx of new sounds can be overwhelming. But many parents of deaf children with co-morbid autism have found great success with hearing aids, and they may prove to be highly beneficial for your child's development.
Understanding the Link Between Deafness and Autism
The scientific connection between hearing loss and autism is still not clearly understood, but there does appear to be a relationship between the disorders. One study conducted in 2012 found that one out of every 59 students at a studied school was being treated for both hearing loss and autism, and the more profound the hearing loss, the more likely the child was to also suffer from autism spectrum disorder. This suggests that the two are frequently co-morbid for a reason, and treating one may help make progress with the other.
Boosting Language Development
The primary threat to both deaf and autistic children is the loss of crucial early language skills that will be necessary to socialize and form connections with others later on. Autistic children in particular are known to often have visual irregularities as well, making it especially important for them to have another sense to help them interpret and work with the world. The sooner your child can hear you speaking and begin developing those areas of the brain, the better off he or she will be in adulthood.
Balancing Sound Sensitivity Due to Autism
Although many autistic people find sounds to be distracting or stressful, a hearing aid can actually filter out some unwanted noises to help your child focus and navigate loud locations such as supermarkets. These specialized hearing aids work similarly to hearing aids meant to manage tinnitus, reducing background sounds to a less obtrusive level and giving the brain less to worry about as a consequence.
Encouraging Cooperation When Wearing a Hearing Aid
Initially, and particularly for children on the lower-functioning end of the autism spectrum, being fitted for and then wearing a hearing aid can be an anxious and even distressing ordeal. The best thing you can do is stay in as much communication with your child as possible, both explaining why the hearing aid is necessary and then listening if your child has complaints. Thankfully, modern hearing aids are lightweight and comfortable, and many autistic children have no trouble making the adjustment. Speak to your audiologist if you have doubts, but in most cases the long-term benefits of fitting your autistic child with a hearing aid far outweigh any potential meltdowns.
For more information, contact a hearing center like County Hearing And Balance.