What to Say to Siblings of Children With Cochlear Implants
As we’ve talked about earlier, it’s really important to educate others about cochlear implants. But if it’s your child who has received, or will receive, a cochlear implant these “others” might be right within your own family: your child’s siblings. Of course we know that this can be a challenging time for you, so here’s some information that you can share with his or her siblings. Whether it’s before, during, or after their brother or sister has received a cochlear implant, use this information to make it easier for you to explain what’s going on and to help answer the questions that they might ask.
Before the Cochlear Implant: Break the Ice
Lots of this varies depending on the age of his or her siblings and when your child was diagnosed with a hearing loss.
Regardless of whether or not your child was born with or developed their hearing loss, the best thing that you can do for your other children is to be open with them: explain what’s happening in age-appropriate ways, answer their questions, and work to include them in their sibling’s hearing journey.
A good place to start is by simply explaining what a hearing loss is, and that their brother or sister has a hearing loss. Let them know that their brother or sister will be unable to hear certain sounds or understand certain voices, and they haven’t chosen to ignore sounds. If his or her siblings are still young you might like to use a cartoon book that explains hearing loss, or if they’re a little older it might be better to show them a video explaining hearing loss.
Sometimes your children might not understand why their sibling will have different experiences than they did. Explain that because of the hearing loss their sibling will be getting a lot of attention that is different from what you might give to them, and that this isn’t because you love anyone more or less but it’s just because of the hearing loss. If you can, set aside special time to focus just on the siblings and go out with them to their favorite place be it at the movies, beach, or somewhere else. It is also good to encourage them to talk about their feelings with you.
While Receiving a Cochlear Implant: Explain the Specifics
When it’s time for your child to receive a cochlear implant, give your children a rough outline of what will happen over the next days, months, and years. Tell them that their sibling is having this surgery so that they can hear sounds, and just like explaining hearing loss you can use cartoons or videos depending on your children’s age.
Depending on where you live, you and your child may need to spend time in the hospital after surgery. Involve your other children in the decision as to whether or not they will come with you to the surgery, or if they’ll stay somewhere else like with their cousins or grandparents.
After the Implantation: Involve Them
After your child has received his or her cochlear implant, and had the first fitting, now it’s time to get the siblings really involved with their brother or sister’s hearing journey. Of course your child will be visiting a rehabilitation specialist, so ask the specialist for ways in which the siblings might be involved in the process. This way you can help them understand that they’ve got something to offer in their sibling’s development.
Start by letting them learn about the audio processor, that it’s the thing their sibling needs to be able to hear and should wear all throughout the day. Explain that if their sibling isn’t wearing the processor they won’t be able to hear. Ask them to keep an eye out for if their sibling takes off the audio processor or it flashes lights because this might indicate that your child isn’t hearing correctly.
Sometimes their sibling might not understand them, and it’s important they don’t think this is because their sibling is being rude or ignoring them. Start by letting them know that their sibling will understand sounds differently from them, and that this will change with time.
The most important thing to remember is that this is a process. Communicate everything to the siblings in an honest and understandable way, encourage them to talk to you about their feelings anytime, and reassure them that they can come to you with any questions that they have.
And if you have any questions of your own, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s audiologist or MED-EL representative.
This post was written with assistance from Shabnam Fathima, a clinical specialist who focuses on cochlear implant rehabilitation.
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