Lost and Found
By Anja Rosenke, Richmond, BC
As we drove by a park in Vancouver recently, my mother reminded me of a story I had long since forgotten. The tale of the missing cochlear implants. How could I forget? Maybe I had blocked it out of my mind.
Our son was about 2 ½ years old at the time, maybe 3, and we had come to the park with my friend and her kids on a beautiful sunny day, ready for some play time and a picnic. As we set up the picnic blankets, I followed my friend’s lead and let my kids head off with the others to play on the playground. I remember saying to myself, ‘Relax, Anja, let him go explore.’ So I allowed myself a good catch-up session with my friend as the kids went off.
While I wouldn’t call myself an obsessive or helicopter parent, I did tend to keep quite close watch over our son’s cochlear implants (CIs) back then. He was a toddler who tumbled as much as he toddled, he had a significant language delay, and was still getting used to wearing cochlear implants. As parents, we still managed his hearing equipment for the most part, and were very conscious of how expensive and important the gear on his head was. In fact, on most outings, I repeatedly looked or felt for that familiar magnet and cable the whole time we were out. Even though we secured his CIs with ear molds, and later two-sided wig tape, I had developed my own sort of nervous habit of constantly checking them.
The kids played for quite a while at this great playground, which has a climbing structure and swings, and is bordered by a nature path through some trees. Eventually they made their way back to us for snacks and drinks. My son trundled back as well – all smiles, not a shadow of concern on his cherub-like face. He set about happily shoving fistfuls of Goldfish crackers in his mouth, and amidst the pleasant chatter and noise, it dawned on me that my son was not responding when spoken to. Wait, where were his CIs? Panic struck – both of them were gone.
Because I didn’t want to interrupt everyone’s lunch, and we were trying to teach our son to become responsible for his implants, I started motioning to him, ‘Where are they?’ Pointing at his ears and putting my hands in the air questioningly, I was met with a blank expression and he went back to his snack, unphased. Truth is, he didn’t mind not hearing sometimes. And at the park, there was a lot of wind and background noise to contend with, so who could blame him. After a quick scan of the playground near our picnic blankets, I realized that this was not going to be a quick recovery. So we left our picnic to the ants and assembled our search party. The park suddenly looked expansive.
As we started to spread out and look – the four girls, my son, my friend and I – I realized that I couldn’t even retrace his steps because he had gone off with the older girls earlier. The one time I wasn’t paying attention! And just as despair was setting in, and I was simultaneously cursing myself for “letting go”, and calculating my chances for getting a loaner CI if I called our audiologist right away, my daughter called out, ‘Found ‘em!’ She was standing by the swing sets, and found them where my son had left them on the wooden barrier at the edge of the gravel. At least it was somewhat of a safe spot to set them down!
With relief, I thought to myself, ‘Ok, crisis averted, but how can I turn this into a teaching moment?’ At that age, my son had very little language because of the late identification of his hearing loss, so I had to keep things simple. Even though our goal for our son was a listening and spoken language outcome (which meant maximizing the time that he wore his CIs), we also strongly believed that he should be able to take breaks from hearing sometimes. We wanted to help him develop a sense of awareness in determining when he needed a ‘hearing break’, and the skill to tell us. Simply leaving them by the swing sets was not ok! So I tried to communicate this with simple language and gestures, and at home, I followed up by role-playing the situation again with his stuffies.
Self-determination is a skill development that can begin at a very young age. Creating an encouraging and supportive environment at home promoted active involvement and choice making, leading to successful transitions into school (Grolnick et al., 2009).
Did it work? I’m not sure it did that particular day, but I’d like to think that it was part of the learning process that has led my son to become very responsible about his hearing technology now. Nowadays he tells us when a battery dies or his CI stops functioning. He lets us know if it’s too windy or noisy for him, or if he’s not ready to put his CIs on first thing in the morning. As parents we continue to encourage this kind of self-advocacy, and remind him to speak up about what he needs, and teach him how to keep his CIs safe.
Parents’ promotion of choicefulness has been shown to be a strong predictor of children’s well-being, adherence to care and academic functioning (Grolnick, 2003; Grolnick, Ryan & Deci, 1991)
I am sure many families have had similar heart-stopping experiences with their child’s hearing equipment like our day in the park. The vast majority of children with hearing loss are born into families who have no prior history of hearing loss. As parents, we do our best to make good choices for our deaf or hard of hearing children. Because so much is at stake, parents tend to take charge right from the outset, and act as the main spokespeople for their child with the many professionals that support them. Family-centered support too is understandably directed at the parents, yet the benefits of including the child in conversations and choices surrounding his or her hearing loss, starting from an early age, are great.
While I could never imagine my son abandoning his CIs at the playground these days, I am mindful of continuing to encourage our son to participate in many aspects of his hearing loss, as is appropriate for his age, both at home and at school. We believe that including him in these conversations will empower him. Throughout his life, he may have opinions and ideas about his hearing loss that differ from our own as parents. Ultimately we want our son to become independent and competent, and feel successful with regards to his hearing loss and hearing equipment – whatever those choices are. And if we’ve done our job right then in the future, should he lose a CI while body surfing at a rock concert, he will know what to do.
Grolnick, W. S. (2009). The role of parents in facilitating autonomous self-regulation for education. Theory and Research in Education, vol 7(2) 164–173.
Grolnick, W. S. (2003). The psychology of parental control: How well-meant parenting backfires. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Grolnick, W. S., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (1991). The inner resources for school performance: Motivational mediators of children’s perceptions of their parents. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol 53, 508-517.