Winter has not quite hit in the part of the Northeast where I live, yet, so I am a little slow in getting into the outdoor spirit. Having grown up in the Canadian Rockies I am used to winter hitting hard and early. This past weekend we were up in the Adirondacks where winter has already hit and there was lots of snow to play in.
I love winter – it brings an abundance of outdoor activities that families can participate in together – from building a snow fort in the backyard, to skiing down the slopes. However, cold temperatures, snow, and the necessity of winter headgear, such as warm hats and protective helmets, can be a concern when your child wears hearing aids or cochlear implants.
While the newer generation of hearing instruments are sturdier than you think, especially those that are designed for pediatric use, you should still take some precautions when your child is playing around ice and snow. Here’s a round up of tips to help you with all the snow fun this winter!
Let age be your guide.
The age of the child is a factor when children are playing in the snow. A three year old might not understand how playing in the snow can lead to “wet” hearing aids. At this stage there is a need for a little extra supervision and assistance when outside. Consider investing in some protective hearing aids covers. Ear Gear is a popular cover used to protect hearing aids from moisture and dirt and comes with an optional leash to attach to the back of your child’s collar.
Starting at age 5 your child will be able to assume more responsibility and will know what situations might lead to wet hearing aids. “Our daughter spends a ton of time outdoors in the winter, so we made sure we found a hat that had a tight enough headband so that snow wouldn’t get in”, says a Vermont father, whose 10 year daughter uses bilateral cochlear implants, “but it’s still loose enough everywhere else so it doesn’t interfere with her microphones.”
What is the activity?
What your child is doing outside can also be in factor in how they wear their hearing equipment. “For us it very much depends on the situation. While we do try to keep our son’s hearing aids in as much as we can, if he wants to go outside and make snow angels in the backyard we often remove them just to be on the safe side”, says a mother whose 3 year old son is a bilateral hearing aid user. “But, if he wants to go sledding at the local hill we definitely keep them in, we just make sure he has a leash on that connects them to his jacket, in case they get bumped out.”
Skiing and Snowboarding with Hearing Instruments
Skiing with a hearing loss can present some challenges, however with some planning there is no reason why your child cannot participate. “Learning to ski really gave my son an extra boost of confidence,” says Kassie DePaiva, mother of J.Q. who wears a cochlear implant, “He’s not a big athlete but he loves skiing and now that he is 14 he is on a freestyle team and it’s something different from what his friends do.”
Protect, but don’t cover
A helmet is a necessity when learning how to ski; many ski areas require that children twelve and under wear one. Take the time to find a helmet that is both comfortable for your child and also one that lets the microphones remain exposed, so that your child can still hear. It is also worth it to invest in a helmet designed specifically for skiing as they are equipped with liners that will add an extra layer of warmth on cold days.
Using an FM system
The use of an FM system is not a necessity when skiing, however if your child has access to one it can add to the experience. “We never used an FM when skiing with J.Q.” says Ms. DePaiva, “it might have been helpful in some situations, but overall he has done great without one.” On the other hand, Janice Schacter Linz, maintains that “Skiing with an FM system was critical for my daughter (who is a bilateral hearing aid user). The instructor used to joke that she was probably the only child who could hear him.”
If you do decide to use an FM system let the instructor know ahead of time and plan to meet before the session begins so that you can show them how to use it.
What to do on the hill
One concern about skiing and children with hearing loss is that so much of the instruction occurs either behind or in front of the child, making it difficult for the child to see the instructor’s mouth.
“We started skiing as a family when J.Q. was 3 years old,” recalls Ms. DePaiva, “so my husband would ski with him attached with a harness. Once he was used to going down the hill we enrolled him in ski classes. We just reminded the instructor that he needed to speak to our son’s face if possible. It has all been a positive experience.”
Another option is to enroll your child in a skiing program right from the start. Ski hills today are family-oriented and there are great learn-to-ski programs available. One possibility is to enquire about adaptive ski programs.
“While we do open up our program to people with hearing loss, we very rarely have students that access the program,” says Pam Greene, Program Director of the Adaptive Sports Foundation located at Windham Mt, NY.”It seems that people with hearing loss don’t consider themselves disabled and don’t look in to adaptive sports programs.” However, adaptive programs can offer smaller class sizes and instructors who are familiar with the use of FM systems and the specific needs of children with significant hearing loss.
Make friends with people at the ski hill. Whether you live close to a ski hill, or are visiting one for the week as a family, make yourself and your child known. “It is always a good idea to check out a program before you start. Have your child meet with their instructor or try on ski boots, anything that can help them become more familiar with the process of skiing,” continues Ms. Greene. The Adaptive Sports Foundation provides a Getting Ready booklet (available under the resource section on their website, www.adaptivesportsfoundation.org). While it is not designed specifically for families of children with hearing loss, it is full of great information to help children prepare for their first time on the ski hill.