Imagine you are 4 years old and your mom takes you to the doctor to get your hearing tested. When you walk in, a stranger tells you to go into a small room, not much bigger than a box. They start sticking stuff in your ears and telling you to listen to all the sounds.
You don’t like things in your ears because your ears have been hurting.
You start to cry.
Your mom gets frustrated because you have to be quiet for the hearing test and the person doing the test starts trying to calm you down by singing songs and making funny faces.
You start to play a game where you are asked to throw a block into a bucket whenever you hear something. This gets boring really fast and you just want to get out of the weird room you are in.
This is what it is like for a 4-year old to go through a hearing test.
They don’t know what to expect and it can be scary.
If they are being seen because they have an ear infection, their ear is probably hurting. The last thing they want is for a stranger to start touching it.
Preparing your child for what to expect during a hearing test can help make the experience more pleasant for everyone. If the child is prepared, the examiner will likely be able to get more reliable results in a shorter time and avoid having to do repeat testing.
Depending on the age of the child, there are different methods for testing hearing. Some involve cooperation from the child.
Hearing Tests For Newborns
During OAE testing, a small earphone is inserted into the child’s ear and soft tones are presented to the ear to measure the automatic “response” of the ear. It is painless and only takes a few minutes while the child is sleeping in a quiet room.
During ABR testing, sticker electrode wires are attached to the child’s skull and clicking sounds are presented to the ear via small earphones in the ears. The test measures the brain activity in response to the sounds. The test is painless and only takes a few minutes while the child is sleeping in a quiet room.
Hearing Tests for Infants
During behavioral audiometry, the child is in a sound booth, usually held by a parent. Sounds are presented through speakers and the Audiologist observes the child for indications that the sound is heard. It may be difficult to get reliable responses and further testing may be used.
During visual reinforcement audiometry, the child is in a sound booth, sitting on a parents lap or alone. Sounds are presented through speakers and the child is positively reinforced when they look towards the sound with the use of lighted and/or animated toys. The test requires some cooperation from the child.
Hearing Tests for Toddlers
Testing for toddlers includes Visual Reinforcement Audiometry and/or Conditioned Play Audiometry.
Depending on the age, visual reinforcement audiometry may be used for toddlers but instead of the sounds being presented through speakers, the child wears headphones or small earphones when listening for the sound.
During conditioned play audiometry, the child wears headphones or earphones. When a sound is presented to the ear, the child is instructed to do something with a toy (i.e. throw it in a bucket, add a block to the castle). The tests requires cooperation from the child to play the “game” which may not always be given.
Testing for toddlers may also ask them to repeat softly spoken words while listening through headphones or point to body parts (i.e. eyes, nose, ears) when asked. This requires them to sit calmly and listen to the examiner through the headphones or inserts.
Hearing Tests for Older Children
Once a child is old enough to keep headphones or earphones on and respond reliably to sounds, pure tone audiometry can be done. During this testing, “beeps” are played in the child’s ears at different volumes and pitches. The child is asked to respond in some way when they hear the sound (i.e. raise their hand, say “yes”).
There are several things parents can do before a hearing test to prepare them:
- Help your child get used to having something in the ears by putting headphones or earbuds on them while they are doing something they enjoy. You can play music through the headphones as long as it is not loud.
- Have your child repeat words to you. For example, ask them “say baseball, say hotdog, say ice cream”. If they are too young to repeat words, ask them “where is your nose? where is your mouth?” while having them listen and point.
- Bring their attention to sounds they may hear in the environment. If the telephone rings, say “Listen, do you hear that?”
- Practice playing the “listening game” with your child. Cover your mouth and say “beep, beep” softly and have them do something every time they hear it (i.e. toss a block into a bucket).
You will be surprised how much of a difference these small things will make for your child when they have a hearing test.
Following some of these preparations will help the child feel more comfortable during the testing, cooperation will be improved, and the examiner will be able to get more reliable results from the child in order to properly diagnose their hearing loss.