Top Tips for Travelling with a Child with a Cochlear Implant
By Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm, EdD
It is always important to be ready for the unexpected when traveling with children. However, it is even more crucial to be equipped and prepared when your child wears a cochlear implant. Here are ten tips on ways to ensure a trouble-free excursion:
1. Acquaint yourself with your child’s specific implant
As the parent of a child with a cochlear implant, it’s probably best to assume that most people will not be as familiar with them as you are, making you the “expert.” It is essential to know the type of implant your child is wearing. For example, is your child wearing a Nucleus 7, Kanso 2, etc.? Knowing the proper name of their device may save you a lot of time and trouble in an urgent situation. Also, include a picture of the device on your cell phone. Knowing the different parts associated with your child’s cochlear implant is a good idea as this will assist you when speaking directly to qualified individuals who are knowledgeable if something gets lost or broken.
· Cochlear magnet
· Slimline coil
· Microphone cover
· Tamper-resistant lock
· Battery module
· Indicator light
· Control button
· Processing unit
· Serial number
2. Be prepared to answer questions from people
Children who have not met your child may be naturally curious and want to ask questions. They may not use the proper “terms” and ask, “Why do they have a box on their head?” They may wonder if the implant “hurts” your child! They may have questions about whether they sleep or shower with their cochlear implant. The great thing about children being curious about your child’s cochlear implant is that they typically will be very open with asking their questions. Generally, once they receive a reply, they are satisfied and go on their way. This is an ideal time for you to educate. If you feel your child is ready to begin answering questions about using their cochlear implant, you can always direct the questions to the child.
Adults may be a different story. Some adults may “stare” and may not feel comfortable asking questions. They may do this because they fear appearing insensitive or rude. However, some may ask you direct questions that do seem insensitive. You’ll need to prepare yourself by being ready to model your type of response in front of a child. They may question why you would put your child through an “unnecessary” surgery. They may challenge you as to what benefit your child is receiving from a cochlear implant if you are still utilizing American Sign Language (ASL) with your child. While some of these questions may anger or upset you, take a breath and try to assume that the person asking them is attempting to gain some knowledge.
3. Establish a plan for removing the cochlear implant
Your child will not be the first to want to take their cochlear implant off during part of their day. They may be in a noisy environment, and the sound may become overwhelming. Your child may want to take a nap, and they like to sleep on the side with the implant. Whatever the situation, you should have a plan established with your child based on their age and level of responsibility on what to do when removing the cochlear implant. This can help prevent leaving an implant on an airplane, in a hot car all day, or a hotel room. Some older children might toss their cochlear implant into their bookbag when playing sports and then later throw their sneakers or schoolbooks in the same bookbag and mistakenly smash it.
4. Take precautions when swimming with an implant
Many kids love to swim. You can get a device that will allow you to swim with your cochlear implant device. Several water-safe accessories can be purchased for children. However, your child will probably not be the only child to jump into a swimming pool with their cochlear implant before realizing they forgot to take it off. You’ll need to know what to do to attempt to save the cochlear implant device if it is submerged in water for an extended period of time.
Also, remind your child that simply removing their cochlear implant before jumping into the pool or lake is just part of the responsibility. Leaving it on a picnic table, sticking it inside their shoe, and laying it inside a potted plant can complicate the situation.
5. Be prepared in case the cochlear implant is lost The worst situation has occurred, and your child has lost their cochlear implant. This is the time to ensure you have packed an extra one for them. It could take a while for a replacement unit to arrive, especially if you are on vacation or traveling out of state or the country. Preparing for such a disaster is the best way to handle this situation.
6. Always be ready with batteries
Charge your rechargeable batteries before your trip. Also, include extra batteries, an outlet plug adapter, your charging device, a microphone protector, and a fully-charged backup sound processor in your backpack each day. Don’t assume that you’ll locate a place to access an outlet. Having extra batteries for your child will alleviate a lot of stress. If your child uses a disposable battery, it is best to use a zinc-air battery.
7. Do not place a cochlear implant in checked luggage
Never pack all your cochlear implant supplies and equipment in your luggage. Instead, always put your items in a carry-on bag that you’ll keep with you on the bus, train, or plane. Luggage has a way of getting lost, and this could cause your child to be without access to their cochlear implant for days while someone is trying to retrieve your luggage.
8. Research experts in the area
Do a little bit of research on the area where you’ll be traveling with your child because knowing someone knowledgeable about cochlear implants can save you time and money when the unexpected occurs. If your child is in a serious accident involving their ear or the side of their head, knowing a local professional is priceless.
9. Teach responsibility to your child
The best possible solution for your child with a cochlear implant is to start teaching them to manage their own cochlear implant needs. This involves them becoming responsible for recharging their batteries and the daily care of their device. Learning how to store the device in the evening properly is also essential. While places at home may be safe, the same may not be true when traveling. Animals are very attracted to the smell of hearing aid molds, and a dog or cat in a visitor’s home may be attracted to an unsupervised cochlear implant left on a table or nightstand. The damage that can be done to your child’s cochlear implant can be huge. Simply placing the cochlear implant in your drying unit every night may be the best choice.
10. Educate summer camp counselors and grandparents
Each year many children with cochlear implants attend a week at a summer camp or visit their grandparents. In either case, it is vital that you properly inform the camp counselors or the grandparents on what to do if the cochlear implant malfunctions, breaks, or gets lost. You’ll also need to ensure that everyone has access to your cell phone number and the number of the audiologist handling your child’s cochlear implant.
Careful planning can make your trip with your child with a cochlear implant a successful one!
Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm, EdD, is an Assistant Director of Special Education for a public school district, an Associate Faculty Member with the University of Phoenix, and a Special Graduate Faculty member at the University of Kansas. He has bachelor’s level degrees in English and Special Education. He holds master’s level degrees in Counseling, Special Education, and School Administration. His doctorate degree is from Northern Arizona University in Educational Leadership. His post-graduate degrees are in Positive Behavior Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorders. He has worked for the past 37 years with students between the ages of three to 21 with various health-related concerns in school and community-based settings.