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Early Consistent Hearing: Building Trust & Confidence

Ultimately, our goal for all children is to become confident communicators who feel good about themselves as people. What is confidence? One definition states that an ingredient of confidence is a reliance on one’s circumstances.

The type of interactions that happen in a child’s first year of life are very important in determining his level of trust and security as he grows.

Children who use hearing devices all waking hours learn to depend on their hearing.


“This is the way the world sounds.”
“This is how close mommy needs to be before I hear her.”
“If someone is at the door I know it because I can hear the door bell.”

Psychosocial development – Potential impact of hearing

*In the first 12 months of life babies are learning trust versus mistrust. The challenge in this stage of development is to prevent children from perceiving that the world is inconsistent, which teaches that it is undependable, unpredictable, and possibly dangerous. Parents and other caregivers need to recognize how being able to consistently overhear people talking within a certain distance builds a sense of trust.

Imagine being a 9 months old and crawling. You see a houseplant in the corner of the room and want to explore what it is. Mommy is on the other side of the room. As you start to crawl toward the plant, she sees where you are going and says “no, no – we don’t touch plants.” Her voice isn’t angry. You know the words no-no and she has now linked no-no to the plant. You consider other places you can crawl. Contrast this with not being able to hear Mommy tell you no-no. You continue to crawl toward the plant. She sees you disregard her warning and may tell you no-no again. You are now farther away and can’t hear her voice at all. Suddenly Mommy picks you up. She has an angry face and voice. You don’t know what you did wrong and you’re scared.
 Children who lack consistency in hearing and otherwise can have challenges learning routines. They can also be more fearful of happenings or new situations than other children.

 To build language and trust, it is important to recognize the general size of your child’s listening bubble. Your child will be able to hear sounds farther away when a room is quiet. You may need to be much closer for him to realize you are talking when there is ANY noise in the room.

Use the Early Listening Function (ELF) Questionnaire to discover the size of your child’s listening bubble.

If he is of preschool age or older, involve him in this ‘listening game’ to figure out the size of the bubble. Different voices, distances, pitches of sounds all can make a difference in how close he needs to be to the sound source to hear. Remember, barely hearing a sound does not mean it is loud enough to understand.

Hearing devices generally work most effectively for receiving sound at distances as far as 3-6 feet. Think about how far it is when you are standing at the kitchen sink and your child is sitting at the table or on the floor. Is it further than 6 feet? Knowing the size of your child’s listening bubble will help you to stay close enough so that what you are saying will contribute to his language growth over time.

*This information is based on Schleisinger, H.S. (1978). The effects of deafness on childhood development: An Eriksonian perspective. In L. S. Liber (Ed.) Deaf Children: Developmental perspectives (pp. 157-169). New York, NY: Academic Press.

Original post March, 2012 (c) Karen L. Anderson, PhD