Helping your patients and their families when they fall between the cracks
Although some parents might be reeling from the news that their child has recently been diagnosed with a hearing loss, there is no time to waste. It’s never too early to address a child’s hearing loss and the sooner the better, according to Shelley R. Moats, AuD, PASC, a pediatric audiologist and executive director for Little Ears Hearing Center, Louisville, Ky.
“Although we hear with our ears, we listen with our brain, and stimulating the developing brain with sound is critical for a child’s development,” explained Moats. “There is a window for auditory brain development that runs from birth to approximately three years of age. If the developing brain is not stimulated with sound during this critical time, the child’s ability to listen and process information obtained through hearing will not be as effective.”
Infants as young as four weeks can be fitted with hearing aids and hearing assistive technology systems, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Moats has even fitted infants as young as two weeks when she managed to get accurate ABR results. This early intervention can be a huge step in the right direction, giving the child the resources he needs to start communicating.
“More exposure to sound is necessary to stimulate a child’s brain, since hearing begins in utero around 27 weeks,” she continued. “Children with congenital hearing loss need good ‘catch-up’ stimulation to optimize their brain development.”
While this early intervention can ensure the best possible outcome for a child with hearing loss, it can be pricy. Some families may be eligible to receive funding through their state early intervention program, many of which receive federal funding.
But if the state early intervention program or the patient’s insurance cannot cover the cost, where can you direct them for financial assistance? According to Moats, pediatric audiologists are uniquely equipped to coordinate with the child’s pediatrician for additional referrals such as ENT evaluation and genetic testing for hearing loss — but they are also the first place parents should look for help obtaining hearing aids for their child. Audiologists can be prepared for these tough financial questions by researching possible funding sources for their patients and their families. Several federal and local organizations can help alleviate the financial burden and get children the amplification they need to succeed.
Hearing Aid Manufacturers: Some companies have hearing aid loaner banks or assistance programs for families who cannot afford hearing aids or are waiting for third party reimbursement.
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: This organization has financial aid programs for infants and children with bilateral hearing loss. There are criteria for the degree of hearing loss and oral communication, and parents must demonstrate their need for financial assistance. The Parent-Infant Financial Awards for 2014 totaled $104,247 and was awarded, in amounts ranging from $500 to $1,194, to 125 infants and toddlers in 29 states and Canada.
AUDIENT Alliance: AUDIENT is a nationwide program that helps those in need obtain hearing aids at a reduced cost. Candidates are qualified for the program based on their annual household income.
ASHA and the Better Hearing Institute both offer longer lists of possible financial aid sources, including many state-specific programs, according to Christine Cubelo, COHC, a certified occupational hearing conservationist working at the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam as the clinic manager of Audiology.
“These sources may help point you to a special government or private program, but don’t be surprised if the program only covers 50% to 80% of the cost, or provides recycled hearing aids, so be prepared to pay for the rest or for maintenance/reprogramming costs if the aids were recycled,” she added. “If your patient’s insurance covers hearing aids, remind them to ask about other components such as ear mold remakes, dehumidifiers, or replacement. Some hearing aid manufacturers and universities also have charitable hearing aid programs.”
Financial assistance might be at the top of the parent’s list, but it’s not the only support out there for them — it is just as important to offer community support too. Moats reminds parents that they are not alone on their journey with a child with hearing loss.
“It is incredibly helpful to talk with other parents whose child has hearing loss. Hands and Voices is an organization with chapters in many states that provides parent support and education, she said. “If there isn’t a Hands and Voices chapter in your state, ask your audiologist to put you in contact with the family of a child with similar hearing loss.”
A diagnosis of hearing loss will change the course of a child’s life forever, but connecting with the community and getting the help they need will ensure children and their families are supported and successful.