June 28, 2010

Pool Time!

Summer is here and we are back in daily swimming lessons. Hadley's lesson takes place during open swim, so a portion of the pool is closed off for lessons while the rest is open for pool fun. This would not have worked for us when Hadley was younger-- far too many distractions-- but it's fine now. In fact, it's pretty nice because Hadley can arrive early for lessons, swim a bit, then get a little more practice in afterward.

After her last lesson, Hadley realized that some girls she knew were in the pool and went over to join them. Her waterproof hearing aids were long gone (they don't last after constant submersion), and I wondered how she was going to handle communicating, especially since these were not girls who knew Hadley extremely well. I chatted with the mom and stayed close by the pool but, in the 30 minutes they swam together, Hadley never once needed my intervention. Hadley organized most of the games, which allowed her to always know what was going on. Since there were only two other girls, Hadley was able to pretty quickly figure out who was talking. Hadley even modulated her voice, so she was neither talking too loudly nor softly. It was all just right.

Later on that night, when I was saying goodnight to Hadley, she said to me, "Isn't it great that I can do normal things, like playing in the pool with my friends?" While I'd like to think that Hadley is nonplussed by the differences in her life versus her friends, it's also great to know that she's as aware and thrilled with her accomplishments as we are.

June 18, 2010

Ars gratia artis...and more

When you read dozens of good picture books a day to your child, you can't help but instill an interest in art as you advance their listening and comprehension skills. Like most kids, Hadley loves to draw, paint, cut, glue, sew, tape, and create art. As a preschool and kindergarten student, she took a few art workshops and classes that provided kids a fun space to paint, color and draw. She most enjoyed the process of making something, not really caring about the final product (the "Look how much paint I have on me! You should have seen the mess we made!" phase). It was simply fun.

Then Hadley became frustrated: her horses didn't look on paper the way they looked in her mind, the faces were uneven, she couldn't make things right. She didn't buy the line "there are no mistakes in art!", or even "just paint over it". Since I was looking around for an activity that was both calm and done in a group, I checked out the art options. We're fortunate to have a number of choices in our small town, including a local artist whom I've known about for years. I enrolled Hadley last summer (at age 7 1/2).

At first, I really thought that the benefit of this weekly class would be the guidance in art that would help ease Hadley's frustrations. Hadley knew a few kids in the class, so it was a nice way to see some friends over the summer in a quieter, more structured way than what she got on a playdate, on the playground or in a sport. After a few weeks, I noticed another benefit: Hadley was always calm and peaceful leaving the studio. It didn't matter what her mood was when she entered or how she felt about the work she had done, she just was always peaceful (and stayed that way for a while). As Hadley developed more confidence in her art work, she could spend time drawing at home as a way to calm her down. Living with a hearing loss is tiring, and sometimes she just needs to get away from the world. Creating something, whether it's drawing a picture, coloring a mandala, cutting out clothes for paper dolls...they all give her the opportunity to just get into herself for a little bit, and away from the chaos at hand (even if she's still physically in the middle of it). I joke that the cost of each art class is awash with an insurance copay for therapy-- with the added bonus that we have pictures to hang on the walls.

It's now been a full year of weekly art classes for Hadley, and she's excited for the summer session to start next week. Regardless of what she does with art in the future, she has a really strong understanding of how she can calm herself or regain some energy by spending some time with art.

(Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one activity she'll hang on to for a while: she's caught the bug for entering contests and art shows. Tonight, she received an award in her age group at the South Shore Art Center Arts Festival. If you're local, go check her work out in the kids' tent this weekend!).

Prepping for Water Fun

Apparently, there's a law requiring that all early summer celebrations include significant activity with water balloons or, at the very least, water spray misters. Most of the school and sports celebrations that Hadley has attended the last few years included some serious water play. What's a kid with 6K of technology on her head to do?

Usually, if I know that an event is going to center around water play, Hadley will just wear her waterproof hearing aids. However, after several run-ins with water when you'd least expect it, I became prepared. Super Seals served us well when she was a baby, but they are expensive for infrequent use and have a short shelf life. The answer, ultimately, was the source of the problem: unused water balloons. Slid over each hearing aid, they provide enough short-term protection for a water balloon fight, water spray, or a few quick runs through a sprinkler.

It's easy to keep a few in my bag. Yes, Hadley could take off her aids but, when in a larger group of kids, it's preferable to keep her hearing and just add another layer of coverage. When the water fun is over, she just takes the balloons off and quickly dries her hearing aids to ensure that all moisture is gone.

Last weekend, Hadley celebrated the end of the softball and lacrosse seasons with some water balloon fun with her teams, worry free.

June 11, 2010

The Feelings Book

Experience books played an enormous part in Hadley's early language development. As learning language concepts came more readily to her, we eased off on the daily entries, then left them behind entirely. When my sons were born (both hearing), I had a moment of guilt that I was not creating these masterpieces for them...then I got over it and got back into parenting a set of twins (which has its own set of obstacles and complications).

My kids are the ones that made me return to a kind of experience book...taking a favorite published book and recreating it with your own family. When my boys were 18 months old, they were obsessed with Todd Parr books, especially "The Feelings Book" . Hadley, then 6 1/2 years old, had a renewed interest in experience books and wanted to make her own. We spent an hour going through pictures, thinking of similarities between our family life and the themes from the book, and pretty soon had a final product .
Two years later, the kids still love to read their version, talking about what they see, remembering when they were little...in short, producing rich language connections. It's just as necessary for hearing kids as it is for those who hear with some extra technology behind their ears.

June 6, 2010

Dr Mom Otoscopes

A down side to hearing aids is that the ears are blocked up for a significant portion of every day. Not only does ear wax accumulate, but the lack of constant air circulation can contribute to ear infections similar to swimmer's ear. As Hadley has taken over more of the daily care of her ears, doing a better job some days than others, she's developed more of these infections.

Last year I bought an otoscope to use at home. After years of audiologists letting me take a peek inside Hadley's ears, I thought it might be useful to have one to keep handy. After a little research, I purchased a Dr Mom otoscope from Amazon. Following their instructions, I regularly looked at Hadley's ears in order to get a sense of what her healthy ear drums looked like. What a difference it makes to have a scope at home! This has become especially helpful when Hadley complains of ear pain and I can let her know if it's soreness from a scratch or the beginnings of an infection. Not that we could ever skip a trip to the doctor, but Hadley feels better once she knows what she is dealing with. Last week, I knew immediately that what I saw in her ear was otitis externa, which made the trip to the doctor's office extra speedy.

Yesterday, Hadley asked me to look in her ear to see if all the ear yuck (that's a technical term) was gone. Unfortunately, our trusty otoscope wasn't working, even after changing the batteries. The box mentioned a lifetime warranty, so I emailed the company. Despite it being a Saturday, I received a response within a few hours. After confirming that the scope had, indeed, malfunctioned, replacement parts were on their way. The scope should be up and working again by the end of the week. If you've ever considered having an otoscope at home, go check it out.

June 5, 2010

Music & Light Bulbs

Using music to promote Hadley's early language development was a success, but I haven't thought of music lately as a tool, just another activity that she enjoys. In the last few months, Sarah, her music teacher (who has worked with her since age one), has repeatedly talked about how important it is to keep her singing. Hadley wasn't able to do the children's chorus this spring due to a scheduling conflict, but has continued her weekly piano lessons with Sarah. Each week that I see Sarah, she at some point tells me, "Hadley must keep singing!". I agree with her, hustle the kids back in the car, and life goes on.

Only this week did her message really sink in.

Hadley does not really practice (and I choose not to force it, despite having forced myself to practice long and often while I was a violinist), and her progress on the piano is slow. We have a keyboard at home that we moved into her bedroom, so she would not be bothered by her younger brothers when she practiced. I thought the privacy would increase her practice time and perhaps motivate her to do so more regularly. More often than not, however, she messes around on the keyboard and just has fun with it. There is no formal practice and, since she's upstairs in her bedroom, I can't sit with her and help her review the weekly work (unless I want two three-year old boys to have full run of the rest of the house).

For some unknown reason, this week Hadley chose to practice her actual piano work. I've listened to her play (and improve). I've also heard her sing the words to the songs while she plays (something that Sarah has recently required her to do). She can sing a song in tune on its own. She can play the piece on the piano in tempo. She can't do them together at the same time. Finally, that light bulb went off over my head. Sarah hasn't been telling me to keep her singing just to get her back in class. Sarah knew well before me that Hadley needs to keep singing because she can't process the sound of the instrument and modulate her own voice at the same time.

My music teaching friends will remind me that this is a skill that all music students need to develop...but this goes beyond the norm and clearly is something that is impacted by her hearing loss. Hadley has been taught to focus on the source of sound, to tune out background chatter, so she can identify and interpret speech. Right now, when Hadley hears the piano and her own singing voice, her brain responds as if listening to two people talk at the same time. Her singing voice is usually just above or below the piano note; close, but not quite.

Since Hadley does have the basics of the skill, and the interest, I know it's something that can be improved if we focus on it this summer. If Hadley wants, I know it's a skill that she can fully develop...but only if she keeps on singing.