This article was adapted from an article in the new Pediatric Audiology column by Jane Madell, PhD, at

— David H. Kirkwood,

Breaking Bad News to Parents

Telling parents that their perfect new baby has a hearing loss is one of the most difficult things I ever have to do as an audiologist. After more years of doing this than I want to admit to, it still makes me sad to break bad news.

Understanding our own emotions about this helps us deal with the emotions of parents. Having worked with kids for a long time, I am truly optimistic about what is possible for deaf kids right now. I really believe that, with the right technology and the right therapy, kids with hearing loss can be successful and learn to listen and talk, go to school with their sibs and peers, and be what they want to be.

Parents of newly identified kids are not so lucky. They do not have the experience to know that they should be hopeful. We should expect parents to be stunned and sad when they discover that their perfect newborn infant is not perfect.

If they know anything about hearing loss, it is likely they learned it from some old relative who has a hearing aid that whistles and who is always asking “what?” They are overwhelmed, and that is reasonable.

Jane Madell, PhD, has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speechlanguage pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with degrees from Emerson College (BA) and the University of Wisconsin (MA, PhD). Her 40+ years of experience range from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. She has taught at the University of Tennessee and Downstate Medical School, published four books, and written numerous book chapters and journal articles, and is a well-known international lecturer. Jane’s clinical and research interests cover the gamut of evaluation and treatment for infants and children with hearing loss and auditory processing disorders. Her non-audiology interests include yoga, quilting, folk music, and three adorable granddaughters.