Though hearing loss affects approximately 15% of all adults in the United States, hearing impairment is not an adult-only problem. 2 to 3 out of every 1000 children are born with some degree of detectable hearing loss, raising concerns about the struggles children face during their most impressionable years. Studies show that children with hearing loss sometimes perform at lower academic levels, interact less in social settings, and face higher rates of depression and anxiety than their hearing healthy peers. Past research has also shown a clear correlation between impaired hearing and feelings of rejection or neglect from their peers, highlighting the importance of inclusion for children with disabilities. Fortunately, Mattel’s American Girl doll company has sought to break the stigma through representation, introducing their 2020 Girl of the Year Joss Kendrick; a doll with hearing loss.
American Girl dolls were imagined by Pleasant Rowland to be a positive representation of young girls during historical turning points for women and designed to fill a market gap that Rowland identified while on a trip in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. “The goal was to make history personal and also to fill a gap in the market: there were baby dolls and Barbie dolls, but no dolls designed to be the age of girls who were actually playing with them.” Met with extreme skepticism at the time due to the monumental success of Barbie, American Girl has gone on to sell over 32 million dolls and 157 American Girl books, amassing a large following with their own brick and mortar stores that have welcomed over 94 million visitors worldwide. In short: American Girl is a big deal to young girls across the globe. A responsibility that American Girl does not take lightly. There are currently 46 different characters, ensuring representation for immigrants, African-Americans, children with stutters, and now, hearing loss.
With numerous studies linking feelings of rejection, negative stigma, and social isolation and hearing loss in children, feeling like you are accepted is critical to developing positive self-esteem. Many adults feel as if their hearing loss makes them “broken” or appear disabled. During critical times in social development, these feelings are amplified even more so in children.
The risks of social isolation are high during adolescence, as research indicates that children with hearing loss are more likely to be behind in academic settings and develop a poor-self image that can last a lifetime. The World Health Organization (WHO) had found that “early identification and intervention are credited with significantly reducing the increased education costs associated with hearing loss, and improving earning capacity, in later life.” As children suffer in social settings due to their hearing loss and loss of confidence, they can develop life-long attitudes that make them less likely to seek new employment opportunities, promotions, or raises.
With the introduction of Joss Kendrick by American Girl, an already empowering company for adolescent girls are showing that hearing loss is what makes some girls unique, not disabled. If your child is struggling with hearing loss, speak to a hearing health professional for medical advice and tips to help your child feel more comfortable with their hearing status.