It’s been a while since I’ve written about baby3 at any length. Hardly a baby now; 10 months, rising 11 (rising in all sorts of ways; this morning, found him three steps up the staircase, gamely clambering up while his 7yo sister watched with detachment; time for those stairgates!).
Still deaf? Still deaf. There’s occasionally mornings or moments in the day when I do still wish he weren’t, but- that’s a pointless thought. You could just let your mind leak away into an imaginary nowhere following thoughts like that. It could be worse, though I realised the other day that I wouldn’t want to get into some sort of scale of suffering; one mother whose (hearing) child has been diagnosed with diabetes said bluntly the other day “Yes, but I’d rather he had this than was deaf.” Uh, that would be with the risks of amputation, coma and limited diet? Truly we make our own heavens and hells.
What has happened? Well, at the start of September he got digital hearing aids (two, obviously; £500 each) and moulds for his ears (perhaps £2?). The idea is that the moulds are such a good fit that you can amplify the normal world outside by 80-90dB (like a loud – very loud – shout) and inside he gets something like normal volume. Well, something like that. Certainly ramp it up so that he can hear spoken words, and so begin to build on his (any baby’s, of course) natural ability to pick up vocabulary.
For a while the moulds were OK. The trick is to get them to fit well so sound can’t leak out, because then you get feedback and your kid sits there making a noise like a soundcheck at Glastonbury. Plus you have to watch for him pulling them out if they get a bit uncomfortable. And not have the amplification turned up too high, because that can distress him.
Meanwhile we’ve also worked on sign language, though it’s been limited; he might understand more than we realise, but you need books and tuition and someone poking you to keep using it. Milk (squeezing hand, like milking a cow) – sure. Food, eating (pinched fingers to the mouth) – sure. Nice food (thumbs-up in a smiley curve under the mouth) – sure. Bath (hands rubbed on chest) – sure. Sleep (hand on side of tilted face, shut eyes). He seemed to follow them all, and always looked happy. He is, indeed, a fantastically happy child.
Then we started to coordinate too with the cochlear implant people. A cochlear implant stimulates the inner ear directly, using a filament inserted into the cochlea – the inner ear. That terminates under the skin of the head; there’s a magnetic attachment to an external listening device, which turns the sounds into electrical signals; the magnetic attachment means you can’t disturb the implant itself. Clever, really.
The cochlear team are also interested in the precise level of his hearing, so they did some tests, And they tweaked the hearing aids – they’re just little computers, you can program them to amplify in different ways at different frequencies. Plus we got some more ear moulds. That was around the start of December. Between the two – we’re not sure what it was – it all went wrong. The moulds never fitted: there was always feedback. We got one, two, three sets of lousy moulds, some of which had an extra small tube where they fit into the ear; the audiologist, who’s excellent and dedicated, told us this increased the chance of feedback. They’re made by a private laboratory – Starkeys in Cheshire, since you ask.
Upshot: child3 (as it makes more sense to call him) didn’t have any useful hearing aids all through December. We feel concerned that he’s missing out on all sorts of language development as a result, which is one of those troubling things that you can’t know for sure until later. But it’s got to be a good bet that if you don’t get any verbal input for a month at this sort of age, it’s not going to help your linguistic development. £500 hearing aids, £2 moulds; guess which one fails.
Still, it has given us more impetus to work on sign language, and he is now babbling – in sign – back to us. Milk, food, bath. (The latter consists of slapping himself. It’s sweet.) When someone signs something he recognises, he always looks at the signer and grins a huge grin and then turns to whichever parent is around, as if to say “Doesn’t that look daft?“
We got some more moulds at the beginning of January; one worked, one didn’t. The audiologist told us she’ll use a different manufacturer from now on; we’ll have to hope it makes a difference. However I’m starting to think that it’s next to impossible to amplify the sounds around you by 90-odd dB and prevent it leaking out of a pair of ear moulds, especially if they’re being worn by an energetic child whose idea of a relaxing time is to do commando crawl across the kitchen and then see how many chairs he can pull himself up on while pulling anything on them onto the floor. Some things just don’t change between children.