According to at least one study, children with hearing loss are at greater risk for injury than their hearing-enabled peers.
For that reason, it’s imperative that parents and caregivers take special steps to ensure that children who are deaf or hard of hearing are aware of their surroundings, and able to identify and respond to hazards in a way that will prevent harm.
Beyond preparing your child, it’s important to prioritize safety in the spaces where your child spends most of their time. Primarily, that includes your home — indoors and out — as well as any daycare facilities or family members’ homes where your child stays regularly. In addition to standard babyproofing protocol, like ensuring doors and cabinets are locked, outlets are covered, and hazards like pools and stairs are inaccessible, here is a list of the special considerations you should make when childproofing your home for a little one who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Hearing Aid Equipment and Batteries
Research shows that children who have access to sound earlier are more successful with listening and spoken language (LSL). Commonly, this means equipping young children with a hearing device. While these devices can greatly improve your child’s ability to understand and communicate, they can also pose a safety risk. Commonly comprised of small pieces and parts, including batteries, hearing aids can present a choking hazard. If the device consists of wires, they may also pose a strangulation risk. To ensure your child stays safe while enjoying the benefits of their hearing device, take the following precautions:
Ensure your child’s hearing device is professionally fitted, and have it adjusted regularly as they grow. A good fit will help keep the device in place and out of reach of little hands.
When not in use, keep equipment and spare parts locked away in a cabinet or lock box.
Do not leave your infant, toddler, or preschooler unattended for long periods of time when they are wearing their hearing device, including while napping.
In the event of an emergency, like a fire or natural disaster, children with hearing loss are at risk of not hearing warning sounds. To ensure they are alerted of an emergency, especially while asleep, and know how to respond, follow these steps:
Install alarms with strobing lights and vibrating alerts, in addition to audible alarms. Each level of your home should have one, and you should test the units monthly.
Set up an emergency plan for your family, and practice it regularly with your child.
Teach your child, as well as caregivers and other family members, emergency symbols in sign language.
Ensure other locations, like your child’s school and daycare, have the same measures in place.
Even small amounts of water can pose big risks — drowning occurs quickly and quietly, and children ages one to four have the highest drowning rates. Moreover, children with hearing loss can sometimes find it difficult to maintain proper orientation in water. So, whether they are splashing in the bathtub or swimming in the pool, it’s important to take precautions:
Always monitor your child while they bathe or swim. Practice “touch safety” with young children by keeping them within arm’s reach at all times.
Learn and practice a sign language signal you and your child can use to signal distress in the water.
When swimming, or even wading, in pools, lakes, or other bodies of water, be sure your child has on a life jacket or other approved flotation device.
Playing outside is one of the great joys of childhood. As long as you take a few extra steps to create a friendly backyard, your child with hearing loss can enjoy all the benefits of spending time in nature. Start with these tips:
Each day before your child goes outdoors to play, do a walk-through of your property, and don’t forget to look up and down. Your child will likely not be able to hear the buzz of bees or wasps before they sting, so pay special attention to nests in trees, attached to your home, or under the ground.
Hire a professional fencing contractor to surround your property, or at least your child’s play areas, with a fence to keep them away from streets and out of neighboring properties that may contain hazards.
Create a comfortable space for yourself near your child’s play areas, where your child can remain within view, but they can also explore on their own. You should always supervise your child, but low hearing should not mean they lose their autonomy.
In reality, preventing accidental injury is a difficult, if not impossible, goal for any parent. Children of all ages and abilities love to push limits and try new things, and broken bones, bug bites, and scraped knees are a natural part of growing up. As parents and caregivers, we must do our best to protect our children from major threats, and that usually means parents of children with special needs must overcome extra hurdles. These additional measures will be well worth the added protection — and peace of mind — they offer.