Whitney Lyle, Au.D.
Pediatric Audiologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado
Take a minute and place yourself at the end of the week. You made it. You survived work and are ready for some fun. It’s Friday night, and you were able to make a reservation at the new trendy restaurant for date night. The waiter approaches your table, but at the same time the couple next to you asks you to pick up the phone they just dropped, you smile at the waiter, order a nice bottle of wine, hand the couple their phone, and comment on how much you love the James Taylor song that just came on. You may not realize it, but this situation requires a lot of auditory cues which, even with the slightest hearing loss, you could miss. Now imagine you have hearing loss. Same situation. Except now, instead of a relaxing night out, it becomes stressful. “The waiter is coming… what did the couple next to us want?...I wish they would turn this music down”. The night ends and you are exhausted, you don’t even remember what the conversation was. And just like that, you can’t wait for Monday back in your quiet, controlled office.
While this situation may seem extreme, it is actually quite common. I have heard patients comment on how much they hate going to dinner because of how hard and tiring it is to enjoy conversation with their loved one. I have heard patients comment on how they wish they could hear their grandchildren when they come over to play at their home. Hearing is an important part of our daily lives that we do not think about until we experience having some difficulty ourselves.
As an adult, you can appreciate this. You likely grew up with normal hearing. Two ears taking in sounds that became words, realizing that words can become sentences and that your sentences and thoughts matter. A child who grows up with hearing loss does not have this same luxury. Their ears need help sending that information to the brain to make sense of it. Even with hearing technology (hearing aid, bone conduction device, cochlear implant) these children must work harder than their typically developing peers to learn. As a parent, learning that your child has hearing loss is hard, in fact, learning that your child is at all different is hard. I am not a mother, but I deliver this news to families and I begin this journey with them. They have so many questions: Do they have to wear this forever? Is their hearing going to get better? Will kids make fun of them? What happens if they refuse to wear them? All these questions, which are wonderful and appropriate, are clouded by my thought of what insurance the family has and how this might impact them financially.
As a pediatric audiologist, I have patients who require hearing aids, bone conduction devices and/or cochlear implants to hear. Whether their hearing loss is because they were born without an external ear, were born with a middle or inner ear malformations, underwent surgery to clear out an infection, had a tumor removed, or were born with significant cochlear deficit, every child deserves to hear the world around them and every parent deserves to give that gift to their child. It is very discouraging when I get a denial letter from insurance or when insurance states they will cover $500 when the device could cost $7,000 per ear. The most discouraging is when insurance will cover a device, but only with a surgery. What they may not understand is that, for example, a child born without an external ear cannot have surgery until they are about five years old. I have had insurance deny a device because I could not prove through testing that she was going to benefit from it. This child was 4 months old and was born without an external ear. She is too young for testing to prove the positive impact it will have on her life, and by the time she is able to, we have lost critical time necessary to help facilitate speech and language development. Audiologists are not just working with the ear, we are more concerned with providing rich sound to the brain and not missing important neural milestones. Insurance coverage of whatever assistive device they need should not be a question. Ally’s Act is an important step forward for children and adults who struggle with hearing loss. I urge everyone to read this Act, reach out and support Ally and all those who deserve to hear the world around them.