World Hearing Day: Denial Delays The Care, Not The Truth!

Rohit asked, "Dr Rao, Aaryan sat, stood, walked on time, despite being a premature baby. So he will talk eventually… won't he?”

The Sharma household was all set to celebrate the second birthday of their youngest family member and the only ‘boy’, Aaryan. After all, the onus of taking ahead the family name and legacy lay on him.

The house resembled a decorated ‘mandap’ as the floral garlands adorned every wall, the orange and yellow marigolds intercepted with roses, and the flickering row of lights shimmering away to glory.

The sprawling 4 BHK in the heart of Mumbai was filled with relatives, and the gossipy cacophony was punctuated only by the aromas of delicacies doled out in the massive kitchen by specially hired cooks.

The last birthday was not celebrated as the family was still worried about the pandemic, so this time they had gone all out. Aaryan’s older sibling Anya, 4 ran around with her cousins oblivious to the celebrations.

The Puja to the family deity was presided upon by the family Purohit, and no stone was left unturned to please the Lords. Right from the Mahaprasad enriched richly with desi ghee and dry fruits peering out of every corner, to the gold ornaments to the Idols perched in the holy sanctum to the collection of hymns played by the invited group of singers, it was all perfect.

Aaryan, all clad in the traditional Marwari attire specially ordered from Rajasthan, slept through it all as the guests watched in awe.

Aaryan was unbothered by the world

The guests swelled, and yet Aaryan was dead to the world.

Their family friend Dr Rao walked to the young parents. “Congratulations Rohit and Ambika, You have managed well. Great job there.” He pointed towards Aaryan.

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The parents only nodded. Aaryan was a premature baby born in the seventh month and a NICU graduate. He had neonatal jaundice and needed a blood transfusion to make him thrive. It was a miracle that he had survived despite all odds.

“But…” Dr Rao continued. “Why is he still sleeping? There is so much noise around. Is he under any medication?”

“No doctor,” Rohit replied. “He had an upset stomach last night so had barely slept

Dr Rao smiled and patted the boy before walking away.

An hour later, Aaryan sat in the corner playing with a couple of his little cousins when there was a loud bang. A huge vessel that had been emptied of its contents fell off the cook’s hands, and the noise reverberated throughout the house.

Dr Rao walked to Rohit again. “Rohit, I have been watching Aaryan for a while now. There was such a loud noise, but he didn’t get startled at all when all of us skipped a heartbeat. He is not concerned with anything that’s going around him, though he is otherwise an alert kid. Just answer me, does he talk as yet?”

“No Dr Rao, he just completed 2 years and boys speak late, don’t they?” Rohit was defensive.

“Rohit, it does not work like that. Milestones are important to be achieved irrespective of gender. Boys being slow is not a good example. Something doesn’t seem right to me.”

“But Dr Rao, He sat, stood, walked on time, despite being premature… so he will talk eventually… won’t he?” Rohit spoke softly, even as the noise around masked their conversation.

“His prematurity is what bothers me more, Rohit. I am not a paediatrician, though, and I think you should get him assessed as soon as possible to be on the safer side.”

“What? What do you suspect Dr Rao?” Rohit panicked.

Dr Rao placed his hand on Rohit’s shoulder. “Rohit, I am not suggesting anything except an assessment. There is no harm in it, right? Aaryan is a sharp and alert child, yet he is unresponsive to the noises and sounds around him. That does not sit right from my professional view. Was his hearing test done at birth?”

“No. We were so engrossed over his general well-being, we didn’t keep the appointment later…” Rohit cried, rubbing his face.

Later, as the guests left, Rohit put forth Dr Rao’s theory before the family. His father shook his head, as silence descended on the members. Ambika began to cry while her mother-in-law consoled her.

“Don’t worry, beta, God isn’t cruel. Nothing is wrong with Aaryan. Everything will be alright.” The senior lady spoke.

Denial delays the care not the truth

Since the recommendation had come from Dr Rao, the family couldn’t deny it any more and a couple of days later they visited their paediatrician who in turn referred them to a nearby speech and hearing centre.

Ambika sat with a stunned Aaryan in a soundproof room and there were different kinds of sounds produced through the specially arranged loudspeakers, with dolls lighting up depending on Aaryan’s responses. They called it Visual Reinforcement Audiometry.

Later, Aaryan was sedated, and electrodes were placed in different locations on his forehead and skull. This was the Brainstem Evoked Response Audiometry (BERA).

The next day Aaryan was observed as he played with his sister and mother in a room filled with bright toys and the proceedings were recorded. Finally, a couple of days later, the Sharmas sat before the head Audiologist of the centre.

“Mr and Mrs Sharma, the reports are out, and we have collaborated clinically too based on our observations. Your son Aaryan has severe to profound sensory neural hearing loss.”

He waited for the harried parents to absorb the information overload and continued. “This means he isn’t able to hear what is happening around him or what is being told unless it is extremely loud.”

Understand the issue of your child’s development

“What… what can we do now, doctor?” Rohit asked even as Ambika blinked back tears.

“Foremost, Aaryan needs to receive amplification. Hearing aids. He then needs to be trained to pay attention to sounds and help him discriminate them. He has to undergo auditory training and speech-language therapy. Later, we can even see if he can be a candidate for cochlear implants.”

“But how long will he take to speak normally like us? And is this because he was premature?” Rohit’s voice was filled with poignant concern.

“That’s a possibility, and prematurity puts a child at high risk for this issue. Improvement is going to take time and at this juncture, it is difficult to give predictions. The earlier you intervene, the better he will do. Let’s go one step at a time, one target at a time.”

Acceptance is the key

Though it was difficult for the parents to accept, they began the habilitation process quickly. It was a rough ride as Aaryan did not like any object on his ear.

But the moment he heard sounds for the first time, the boy’s personality changed drastically. He became more friendly, and his journey toward improvement had just begun.

March 3rd Is World Hearing Day!

Today is March 3rd, World hearing day. Meanwhile, it is imperative for all ages to take care of their hearing and be aware of any changes.

It is extremely important for young children to prevent delays in the achievement of speech and language milestones and the rest of their development.

Look for the following symptoms in your infant/toddler:

  • Absence of startle for loud noises.
  • Does not turn to the direction of sound even after 6 months of age.
  • Does not say words, such as “dada” or “mama” by 1 year of age.
  • Turns the head when he or she sees you, but not if you only call out his or her name.
  • Speech is delayed.
  • Speech if acquired is not clear for age.
  • Does not follow directions, even though he seems to focus.
  • Turns the TV or any media volume up too high.

Do not refrain from seeking help in case of the slightest suspicion, because a stitch in time saves nine.

Image source: Miacheljung via Getty Images, free and edited on CanvaPro

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Priya Gole

A pediatric speech-language pathologist by profession and a writer by passion! read more...

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