Ask Dr. Abonso
13. My Son Has Only A Mild Hearing Loss. An Audiologist Told Me That To Be A Good Parent I Should Buy A $4000 Pair Of Hearing Aids.

Dr. Abonso: Maybe she used to sell encyclopedias.

Suspicious Consumer: I think so. The audiologist at our son's school couldn't understand why she said that.

Dr. Abonso: What else did your high-pressure audiologist say?

Suspicious Consumer: That the FM unit we had been using wouldn't be needed anymore.

Dr. Abonso: That bothers me. The purpose of a FM unit is to make certain the teacher's voice can be heard clearly. Even the best hearing aid in production -- the Resound aid -- picks up everything in the room.

Suspicious Consumer: Isn't that what it is supposed to do?

Dr. Abonso: Yes, of course, but if the microphone is located a long way from the teacher, most of what the microphone picks up is the noise and reverberation in the classroom.

Suspicious Consumer: Isn't that the brain's job: separating speech from noise and reverberation? Why shouldn't my son learn by practice as I did?

Dr. Abonso: That works fine for adults, but most kids with mild hearing loss haven't heard enough clear speech so that the speech-recognition circuits in their brains could wire up properly.

Suspicious Consumer: Huh?

Dr. Abonso: They need as much clear speech as possible -- as young as possible. The best thing is to give them as much noise-free speech as practical.

Suspicious Consumer: So what does FM do?

Dr. Abonso: An FM system allows the microphone to be located near the teacher's mouth, so clearer speech is sent to the student. It's not a cure-all, but it helps.

Suspicious Consumer: If my son only has a "mild loss," why does he need any hearing aids at all?

Dr. Abonso: Ah, I wish you could listen to one of my heroes, Dr. Noel Matkin. Unfortunately he moved from Northwestern University out to Arizona.

Suspicious Consumer: So are you going to tell me what he would say?

Dr. Abonso: I can try. The child with a mild loss typically ends up with one year's delay in school. A so-called "mild loss" will knock out 30-40% of conversational speech sounds, making it impossible to learn without a great deal of concentration.

Suspicious Consumer: So what causes the school delay?

Dr. Abonso: No one has an exact explanation, but kids normally learn a lot of their vocabulary and idiomatic language from eavesdropping, which requires good hearing.

Suspicious Consumer: Back to my original question. Would he really hear better outside of school with a $4000 pair of hearing aids instead of a $1600 pair of aids?

Dr. Abonso: If he only has a mild loss, probably not much.

Suspicious Consumer: When would you recommend the more expensive aids, or are they just a come on?

Dr. Abonso: Good grief, no! If your son had a moderate to severe loss, I would strongly consider them.

Suspicious Consumer: Are all programmable aids just as good?

Dr. Abonso: Hardly. Some of them don't have much of anything intelligent inside to program. And you'd be better off with good-quality conventional aids in competent hands than with the most sophisticated aids in the world in the hands of someone who doesn't understand how to program them.

Suspicious Consumer: How do I know which is which?

Dr. Abonso: Call one of the superb educational audiologists in the Chicago area: Barbara Murphy or Judy Elkayam.

© 1993

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