In Case of Emergency

by Tiffani-Hill Patterson


If your home’s smoke alarm goes off, will your child know what to do? If your teen driver is pulled over by the police or in a car crash, how will he or she handle it? To keep children safe during a crisis, teach them what to expect and how to react.

1. Talk about and practice for an emergency.
Parents should prepare their children for home emergencies. One way to do this may be through experience books, which can help teach your children how to react in a crisis. These are typically used for young children who are still learning to read.

Experience books use photos or drawings about an event or situation. For example, take photos of your child near your fire alarms, following your exit path and at your emergency meeting spot.

Then print the photos and add them to a photo book. Discuss the book with your child and make sure he or she understands the plan.

“Experience books can be extremely motivating because your child is the star of the book, and they can easily connect with the subject matter,” says Tina Morris, an Orange Park, Fla., mother of a 4-year-old boy with bilateral cochlear implants.

2. Make use of alerting devices.
Paul Farrell, an audiologist and associate director for Audiology Professional Practices at the American Speech- Language-Hearing Association, recommends the use of alerting devices. “A wide range of products are capable of alerting a person with hearing loss to the potential dangers in their surroundings. Everything from fire alarms that flash and shake you from sleep, to sound monitors that vibrate and alert you to a baby’s cry or a doorbell ring,” says Farrell. Melissa Chaikoff of Atlanta, Ga., recently purchased new alarm clocks for her daughters, who both use bilateral cochlear implants. “The clocks are also smoke alarms that shake their beds and flash ‘FIRE’ on the screen,” Chaikoff says. “The clocks work with our alarm system.”

Suzanne Jones, an audiologist at the HEAR Center at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., urges parents to teach children to use these devices at a young age. “You don’t want to wait until they’re ready to go to college. Start introducing them now.”

Alerting devices are also important on the job. When teens with hearing loss enter the workplace, it’s crucial they let their supervisor know what they need to stay safe, such as visual fire alarms, flashing lights on forklifts, text telephones or other special equipment.

“They should tell the boss what they need and that these items are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA],” says Patricia Trautwein, an audiologist and director of the Education & Bionic Ear Association at

Advanced Bionics. “A lot of times employers aren’t as familiar with ADA, so they rely on workers to let them know what they need.”

A portion of your purchase through amazon.com will be donated to AG Bell.  

3. Prepare for a middle-of- the-night crisis.
If an emergency happens at night, make sure your child’s sound processors or hearing aids are within reach. Angie Mucci of Wichita, Kan., says, “My daughter is 7, and her cochlear implants are stored in a location where she can reach them. If she had to get up in the middle of the night, she could put them on herself.” If your child is not capable of putting on his or her hearing devices, make sure you can get to them quickly.

If an emergency happens at night, make sure your child’s sound processors or hearing aids are within reach. Angie Mucci of Wichita, Kan., says, “My daughter is 7, and her cochlear implants are stored in a location where she can reach them. If she had to get up in the middle of the night, she could put them on herself.” If your child is not capable of putting on his or her hearing devices, make sure you can get to them quickly.

“Not being able to hear is not a big deal in the middle of the night if you have a light source,” Mucci adds. “My daughter has a small camp lantern near her bed.

If the power goes out, she has access to this so she won’t be without both sight and sound.”

4. FM systems aren’t just for school.
FM systems can be used to maintain contact during shopping or social excursions.

If your child is old enough, you could browse the DVD aisle while he or she is two aisles over looking at video games. These devices broadcast sound directly into a child’s cochlear implant processor or hearing aids, cutting down on background noise and allowing the child to hear more clearly from a distance.

“Sometimes FM systems have a longer range outside,” Jones says, “so if a child is old enough to ride bikes in the neighborhood, you could use an FM system to keep in touch with her.” Test the system first before allowing your child to go it alone.

5. Teach kids to use their other senses.
Many children with hearing loss sometimes compensate by developing sharper visual and tactile senses. When your child is not wearing hearing devices, make sure these other senses are engaged.

Karen Putz, a Chicago-area mom with hearing loss whose husband and three children also have hearing losses, urges parents to help their children develop their senses of sight and touch. “Teach kids to do more things visually if they can’t do it through sound. Teach them to be observant. It’s also important to show kids concepts as a way to teach them awareness.”

For example, Putz says she taught her children the difference between hot and cold by using a bowl of very warm water and a bowl of ice-cold water. “That’s how I taught them that the oven is hot,” she says. “Think of creative ways to break down concepts so kids can understand.”

Visual cues give children another way to use their senses. Cochlear implants and hearing aids cannot be worn at the pool or in the bathtub, so visual cues can help you communicate in these situations. Dee Sollenberger, a Trumbull, Conn., mom of a son with cochlear implants, says, “We’ve maintained a small repertoire of signs such as ‘stop,’ ‘wait,’ ‘don’t run,’ ‘time to go’ and ‘calm down.’ These have proven useful when he’s a distance away where his hearing may be limited. Also, they’re useful with our other son who can hear perfectly. Who hasn’t wanted to speak to their child across the room, the football field or in a noisy situation?”

6. Alert emergency responders to special needs.
Have you seen stickers on neighbors’ windows that let firefighters know a pet is inside? Some cities have a similar system that identifies homes where residents with special needs live. Sollenberger’s town has such a system. “There is a sticker on our front window with a tracking number. Police or firefighters would be able to access the system in an emergency and would find out there is a deaf person in the home who wears cochlear implants.”

Contact your city council to see if your town participates in such a system.

7. Rehearse traffic scenarios before giving up the keys.
While all teens need practice before driving alone, teens with hearing loss face extra challenges such as road noise, sound localization and recognizing traffic sounds.

Abby Brimhall, a bilateral cochlear implant user and Utah State University senior, says, “When I first learned to drive, I almost hit so many cars changing lanes and I missed a lot of warning sirens. I had to learn to recognize car horns, sirens, tires screeching and other traffic noises. Parents of teen drivers should point out different car noises and help them localize those sounds.”

Patti Clark of Fort Collins, Colo., practiced scenarios with her 15-year old son who uses bilateral cochlear implants. Her tips on what teens should do in case of a crash or if they get pulled over include:

  • Remain in the car and gather license, registration and proof of insurance. (Make sure your teen knows exactly what these look like and where they are kept.)
  • Immediately tell the officer you are deaf and show them your implants or hearing aids.
  • Tell the officer you might have a hard time hearing instructions.
  • In case of a wreck, ask to phone a parent as soon as possible.

8. Keep in touch on the go.
Cell phones, especially those with texting features, offer those with hearing loss an easy way to keep in touch during an emergency. With today’s smart phones, weather bulletins and other emergency information can be sent straight to your teen’s phone.

Tiffani Hill-Patterson writes about health, parenting, fitness and pop culture. She is the author of Sound Check Mama, a blog about sports, music, and raising a daughter with hearing loss. She can be contacted at  tiffanihillpatterson.com

Source: Volta Voices, January/February 2010