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Monty's CROS aid

Photo: Read Monty's story

Katherine’s son Monty is profoundly deaf in one ear but she was told it wouldn’t affect him and nothing needed to be done. Then she discovered CROS (contralateral routing of signal) aids and was astonished at the impact…

Monty caught meningitis at six weeks old and doctors battled to save his life. When he was well enough to go home six weeks later, hearing tests showed he had no hearing in his left ear.

“When your child has nearly died, the fact that he’s alive is all that matters, being deaf isn't significant,” says Katherine. “It was only later focus turned to his hearing.”

Monty had regular hearing tests but audiologists insisted no intervention was needed; his good ear would suffice. But as time went on, Katherine and Toby, who also have sons Stanley (18) and Albert (10), began to question this.

“The general consensus of the professionals was that unilateral deafness isn’t a problem. But I’d massively contradict that now from my experience,” says Katherine. “On his left side Monty literally couldn’t hear anything. He’d get ear infections and glue ear in his good ear, leaving him with very little hearing. They tried him with a hearing aid, but it was no help.”

“They’d think he didn’t want to be involved – I knew he did, but he didn’t know how.” 

Over the years, Katherine realised the significant impact deafness had on Monty’s development – his personality, his speech and communication and his confidence.

“His speech and language development were very behind. It definitely made him shy. He hid his lack of language skills, avoided activities that needed dialogue and negotiation,” she says. “It affected people’s interpretation of Monty. They’d think he didn’t want to be involved – I knew he did, but he didn’t know how."

At three, Monty started at the nursery his brothers had gone to, but Katherine soon had misgivings. “He clearly struggled but they didn’t take his deafness seriously,” says Katherine. “They refused to give him one-to-one time and one teaching assistant said: ‘He can hear when he wants to’. I was so upset.”

They switched Monty to a Montessori school, which teaches children up to 16, and Katherine home schooled him two days a week. Monty began to thrive, but the real breakthrough came last summer when Katherine contacted the National Deaf Children’s Society.

“I needed validation that his hearing loss is significant – it was such a relief to feel they were behind us,” says Katherine.

We gave her information about devices that could help. One is a bone conduction hearing implant (BCHI), a sound processor held on the head behind the ear, fixed to a screw implanted in the skull. The other is a CROS aid, a hearing aid-like device worn on the deaf ear, which picks up sound from that side and sends it to another device on the good ear.

She called ahead of Monty’s next audiology appointment, insisting she’d be wanting a CROS aid. A new audiologist agreed. “When they’d fitted it, I whispered ‘I love you’ into Monty’s deaf ear, and he looked up at me and said ‘I love you too, Mummy’. It was so emotional,” says Katherine.

“It’s lovely; if you’re laughing he’ll come rushing in from another room to see what’s going on. He doesn’t want to miss out.”

Monty’s brothers were amazed and played games, speaking from another room, which Monty wouldn’t usually hear.

“They said things like ‘Monty’s a poo-poo’ and were astonished when he replied ‘no I’m not!’” says Katherine. “At the dinner table he can now follow a conversation. And Toby and I can be chatting in a noisy street, with Monty between us, and he’ll pipe up to join in!

“The difference is incredible. He’s definitely more involved in everything. He’s more extroverted and approaches other children. It’s lovely; if you’re laughing he’ll come rushing in from another room to see what’s happening. He doesn’t want to miss out.”

They’re hoping Monty will be able to catch up and cope with mainstream secondary school. “Since getting the CROS aid, everything’s fitting into place,” says Katherine. “People don’t understand deafness. Even though you tell them: ‘make sure you face him and tap him to alert him’, they forget because he copes so well lip-reading and is very visual; they’re not seeing how much effort it’s costing him.

“We’re seeing such a big difference. If only he’d had it earlier; it would’ve been useful if audiologists had alerted me to alternatives. I’d like to dispel the myth that unilateral deafness isn’t a big deal, that it won’t affect a child significantly. It really can.”