Recently, scientists have discovered the power of parental influence on children with hearing loss, providing a deeper look into adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in parents and how that may contribute to a child’s struggle with hearing loss. Concerned by the lack of progress in some children despite early detection at birth, being fitted with appropriate amplification devices, and timely intervention services, a yearlong partnership was formed by Dr. Jace Wolf and other audiologists at Hearts for Hearing with an infant mental health professional. The partnership helped audiologists further understand the potential for influence on children with hearing loss by their parent’s adverse childhood experiences and how that may cause significant disturbances in the bond between parent and child. These disturbances may hinder social-emotional functioning and development in the baby with possible life-long consequences. With 2 to 3 out of every 1000 children diagnosed with detectable hearing loss, understanding how parents may influence their children’s progress is critical to ensuring that these children live healthy and productive lives.
ACEs are adverse childhood experiences that parents may have undergone while in their youth. The first ACE study began in 1985, documenting obesity patients and how negative experiences such as childhood sexual abuse or traumatic events had effected a patient’s adult health. Further research had concluded a “strong, graded relationship” between a higher ACEs score and numerous health, social, and behavioral problems, including substance use disorders. A greater ACEs score of four is considered to be a clear indication of future problems.
As parents grow from childhood, brain development is affected due to these childhood experiences, with the possibility of hindering problem-solving skills, stress management, and advocation for their children later in life. As Dr. Douglas Davies, the author of Child Development: A Practitioner’s Guide explains, “The stress of severe and chronic childhood trauma–such as being regularly hit, constantly belittled, watching your father often hit your mother–releases hormones that physically damage a child’s developing brain.”
As a parent’s brain development may be damaged from ACEs, these traumatic experiences may damage the bond between parents and their deaf or hard of hearing child. For children with hearing loss, research has concluded that having a strong support system and family encouragement is critical for positive progress to occur. If decision making and problem-solving skills in parental figures are damaged due to adverse childhood experiences, it can be difficult for parents to become an effective advocate for their children and their treatment.
To combat this, Hearts for Hearing is recommending that clinicians shift their perspective. “As clinicians, we shouldn’t ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Instead, we should ask, ‘What happened to you?’” states Dr. Wolf, promoting validation and understanding of a parent’s childhood experience to, in turn, better support their child’s hearing loss experience. “The ability of a person to recognize responses to a stressful situation and knowing his or her ACEs score is the first step. When we avoid talking about ACEs, we may inadvertently be sending a message that people should be ashamed of their childhood experiences.”