While early detection and diagnosis of hearing loss in children are important for a long-term positive outcome, it is not the only factor that determines a child’s ultimate quality of life. Instead of placing the sole focus of treating a child’s hearing loss on the medical treatment itself, new research shows that increased family engagement with the child and their treatment can be critical to the child’s overall success.
After reviewing the current literature on the long-term well being of children with hearing loss, researchers at the University of Miami have determined that formal parental and caregiver involvement in a child’s hearing healthcare is vital to the child’s development. Unfortunately, the research also shows that many families with children with recently diagnosed hearing loss lack the information and emotional support necessary to be involved in their child’s hearing healthcare.
Although this lack of information and emotional may be due to a number of factors that differ from family to family, the researchers believe that this may be due to three main factors:
Despite these three main limiting factors to the development of a robust family-centric hearing healthcare approach to treating hearing loss in children, the researchers believe that hearing healthcare providers can increase family engagement within the constraints of their current practice. In particular, the researchers believe hearing healthcare providers can focus on three key practices to foster better engagement and collaboration with the families of their youngest patients. These three practices are: providing family support, addressing disengaged families, and motivational interviewing.
Providing Family Support
For children, the success they have with using certain hearing loss treatment interventions, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, relies heavily on the support they receive from their caregivers. Especially for infants, toddlers, and the youngest school-aged children, a parent or guardian may be the only person capable of ensuring that a child actually follows their hearing loss treatment plan.
That being said, there are many factors, such as stress or limited financial resources, that may limit a family’s ability to adequately follow their child’s hearing loss treatment plan. Thus, a good way for providers to help families manage their child’s hearing loss is to start with understanding the family’s current situation, their needs, and their expectations. After doing so, a hearing healthcare provider can offer treatment options that work best within the family’s unique situation.
Addressing Disengaged Families
When providers feel as though a family is or is becoming disengaged with their child’s hearing healthcare, they can take steps to work with these families on identifying the barriers they face to fully engaging with their child’s hearing loss treatment. This may be as simple as asking a family some open-ended questions and encouraging less vocal parents to talk about their experiences, their thoughts, and their concerns, but can make a huge difference in engaging families in a longer-term context.
Motivational Interviewing, or MI, is a method that can help identify the source of ambivalent or disengaged feelings in a situation. MI can also help people find the motivation they need to change these feelings and their behavior. Thus, it can be a useful tool for hearing healthcare providers who need to figure out why a family is disengaged with their child’s hearing loss treatment. Moreover, this method can be critical to identifying specific changes that can be made to increase motivation and engagement in families.
Ultimately, these three practices – providing family support, addressing disengaged families, and motivational interviewing – can be critical to fostering family engagement in a child’s hearing healthcare. Since this engagement is so important for a child’s long-term well being, these three skills are quickly becoming more and more important for hearing healthcare professionals over time.