Just keep swimming: Swim tips for children who are deaf or hard of hearing

by Jessica Klein, MS, CCC-SLP

One of the most popular summer activities for children is swimming. For parents and caregivers, however, swimming can be a source of stress and worry. This worry increases when the child has a hearing loss. What if he doesn’t hear the lifeguard’s whistle? What if he goes too far in the water and doesn’t hear his name being called? What if his device gets wet and breaks? These are just a few of the questions that can go through a parent or caregiver’s mind when thinking about a trip to the pool. To help ease these fears, the following tips can be used to keep children (and their devices) safe while swimming.

  • Be familiar with the device. Many devices today can be worn in the water. Talk to the child’s audiologist to find out if his device has that capability. This may require the purchase of an additional piece of equipment, such as a sleeve that covers the processor. If the device does not have waterproof capabilities, make sure it is stored in a dry place, like a dry aid storage kit. Also consider using a dehumidifier once home to remove any moisture from the device.
  • Do your best to prevent ear infections. Swimming poses the risk of ear infections due to water entering the ear canal. Wearing ear plugs or ear putty is suggested to avoid ear infections.
  • Talk to the child about water safety. If the child will not be wearing his device, discuss ways for him to stay safe, such as watching the lifeguard and staying near an adult. Explain how he will need to be more reliant on speechreading. Point out areas of the pool that are safe for him to be in and areas that are too deep and dangerous.
  • Make sure that the child understands the vocabulary associated with the pool. What does shallow versus deep mean? What does “no diving” mean? Knowing words that he may see or hear can help him stay safe and follow the rules.
  • Talk with the lifeguards and swimming pool staff ahead of time about the child’s hearing loss. Let them know that the child may or may not be able to hear the whistle or any directions being said to them. Encourage them to use gestures as needed.
  • Stay near the child. Being close to the child will help him read lips if necessary. Being in close proximity can also aid in getting the child to safety.

All children should be able to experience the enjoyment of going to the pool. Taking the necessary precautions can bring this enjoyment to children with hearing loss and a sense of relief to their parents and caregivers.

Jessica Klein began working as a speech-language pathologist at CID in 2004, assessing and treating children from birth to age 12. Klein co-wrote the “Targeting Speech Skills for Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing” workshop, presenting annually at CID as well as at Southeast Missouri State University and at the Missouri Speech and Hearing Association conference. In 2011, she accepted a job as a speech- language pathologist at a St. Louis charter school. While in the public school setting, Klein assessed and provided speech and language services to students with varying speech and language needs. She was a member of the school’s CARE team, collaborating with teachers and specialists to develop interventions for students struggling in the classroom. In 2015, Klein returned to CID ready to share her public school experiences with colleagues to help better prepare CID students for the mainstream setting. Since her return, she has written a webinar about developing literacy skills in children who are deaf and hard of hearing as well as spoken about literacy skills and case managing students who are deaf and hard of hearing at Fontbonne University. She has recently transitioned into the role of associate coordinator of the Emerson Center for Professional Development at CID.

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