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Sound localisation and safety

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One of the difficulties people with a unilateral hearing loss have is understanding where a sound is coming from. We need sound to reach both our ears to localise the sound. Our brain receives the sound signal from both ears and is able to interpret where a sound is coming from with accuracy.

With a unilateral hearing loss, your child’s brain may only receive the signal from the better ear and, while your child will hear the sound, she will not be able to tell where it is coming from. The greater the degree of hearing loss, the more difficult localising sound will become.

The most noticeable difficulty for families is when calling the child or when the child is calling you. When you call your child, you will need to tell them exactly where you are or they will not be able to find you.

Road safety

An inability to localise sound has a more important impact – safety, particularly on the road. Good road safety behaviour starts early. Children learn from watching their parents and they copy their behaviour. Set a good example from the start:

  • Cross at traffic lights
  • Don’t cross the road between parked cars. Children cannot see an approaching vehicle and the child with a unilateral hearing loss may not hear the car or know which side the sound is coming from.
  • Car parks can also be hazardous for the same reason.

Generally, children under 10 need active adult supervision when crossing the road. They have difficulty judging how far away a car is and how fast it is going. Children also find it hard to identify if a place is safe to cross the road. Learning to cross the road safely takes time and practice. Walking with your child to the shops or school is an ideal time to teach how to cross the road safely.

You may need to modify “Stop – Look – Listen” when teaching your child about road safety.

STOP: “Is this a good/safe place to cross?”
LOOK: “Is the car coming towards you or is it driving away? Is the car going fast or slow? Can the driver see you?”
LISTEN: “Can you hear any traffic? Remember you need to look and see where it is coming from!”
THINK:  “Do you think it is safe to cross now?”

Bicycle safety

All children need to be taught cycling safety. Start teaching them good riding habits when they get their first bike. Children with a unilateral hearing loss may experience two additional difficulties when riding their bike.

  • When riding on the pavement, they may not hear when a car is pulling out of a driveway and the driver may not be able to see them. They need to be taught to be cautious at each driveway.
  • When riding on a bike track, they may not hear another bike coming from behind or be able to decide which side to move when the rider rings their bell. Rear vision mirrors or learning to ride on the left side of the path so that other bikes can overtake easily may avoid a few unnecessary mishaps.

Talking to your child about their UHL and the extra precautions they need to take will help them to understand their responsibilities and keep them safe.

Next: Roadmap for families – Making informed choices




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