As any parent knows one of the challenges of having a child with hearing loss is keeping your child’s hearing equipment dry – whether it is hearing aids or cochlear implants, water does not make either instrument happy! (Although this is changing with the introduction of water resistant Phonak Nios S H2O and waterproof Neptune Processor from Advanced Bionics.)
Not everyone understands the dilemma created by wanting your child to enjoy the water, but also how stressful the situation can be when you are not able to communicate with your child. This was recently highlighted at a conference I attended in the fall. One of the special education teachers in the audience asked the presenter what parents did during bath-time when their child couldn’t wear their hearing equipment, how did the parents communicate? Now the presenter (who didn’t have children with hearing loss, but ran a school for children with hearing loss) didn’t ask the parents in the audience (who had children with hearing loss) instead she responded that parents would communicate with their children the same way she did when she was on one side of the pool and her kids were on the other side – which meant she used a lot of gestures to get their attention (such as drawing her hand across her throat to tell her kids to knock it off). Not quite the same thing – because if her children were truly in danger at the pool she could at least yell across the pool and they would respond, for parents of children with hearing loss, we do not have that same option.
So what to do when pool and beach season lurk on the horizon and your child cannot hear without their devices. Do you avoid these settings altogether? Below are some tips that I have put together from my experience and I would love to hear from others as to what works for them.
- First thing if you want your child to swim/play near the water they should be taking swimming lessons as early as they can. The Y offers great swimming lessons and they are very affordable – learning how to swim properly really gives children so much confidence! (Take a look at this great AG Bell article on Swim Lessons and Your Child with Hearing Loss for tips on how to work with a swim instructor.)
- When my son was younger I was always in the pool with him. Last summer was the first summer that he was in the pool/on the beach independently. I always made sure he was wearing his life jacket, even when he was in shallow water. This summer he is a better swimmer, but I will still make sure he has his life vest on.
- I keep my eye on him at all times.
- While I do not make my daughter responsible for her brother, she does often swim with him, or he is always in a large group of his cousins. They tend to watch out for each other.
- If there is a lifeguard at the pool/beach I always inform them that my son has a hearing loss and that if they are trying to get his attention they need to make sure they are in front of him, blowing a whistle or yelling at him from across the pool will not help.
- I always dress him in a bright orange or bright yellow swim shirt or swim trunks, that way he is highly visible to both myself and the lifeguard.
- Last year he was old enough to wear his hearing aids on the beach, as he knew to give them to me before he went back in the water. This really helped with the social aspect of playing at the beach as he could interact with his friends and cousins more easily when he could hear them.