Hearing Loss and Your Child's Development
How Hearing Impacts Speech Development and Communication
Children develop speech and language skills by listening and imitating what they hear. If they experience hearing difficulties, whether present at birth or develop as the result of an infection or injury, it can impact their ability to develop these skills.
There are three types of hearing loss – conductive, sensorineural and mixed:
Conductive hearing loss is the most common type found in children and is most often caused by infections or fluid build-up in the ears. Infection or fluid in the ears can make it difficult for sound to travel to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss is usually temporary and can be treated with medication or, in some cases, surgery.
Sensorineural hearing loss is the result of a structural problem or damage within the ear; it is often present at birth and can be permanent. Approximately three of every 1,000 babies are born with sensorineural hearing loss.
Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Your child may be at an increased risk of hearing loss if:
- They were born prematurely, complications occurred during birth and/or were admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
- Childhood hearing loss runs in your family
- They experience chronic ear infections or have had other infections like meningitis or cytomegalovirus
- They are exposed to loud noises
The severity of hearing loss varies by person, ranging from mild (your child may not be able to hear certain sounds) to more severe (they may not be able to hear most, and in some cases, any sounds). It can be difficult to identify hearing issues in small children when their communication skills are limited, so, watching for certain signs of hearing loss is crucial to identifying any issues and beginning treatment as soon as possible. Even if your child passed their newborn hearing screening, you should continue to monitor your child’s development and hearing milestones, including:
Newborns & Infants: Most newborns and small children will “jump” or startle when exposed to loud noises
3 Months Old: Around 3 months old, your baby should begin to recognize your voice
6 Months Old: Beginning around 6 months old, your baby will start to turn their eyes and/or head towards sounds
12 Months Old: When they have reached a year old, your baby should begin mimicking sounds and attempt to speak a few simple words
Additional signs your baby or toddler may be having trouble hearing include:
- Becoming easily frustrated when background noise is present
- Delayed speech
- Failing to respond to their name or conversation-level speech
- Having difficulty focusing and/or learning new tasks
- Preferring to watch TV at high volumes
If hearing loss is suspected, talk to your pediatrician to determine if an assessment with a hearing specialist, known as an audiologist, is recommended. Audiologists have received extensive training in diagnosing and treating all types of hearing loss in both adults and children, and hold either a master’s or doctorate degree in audiology. They utilize a variety of methods to test your child’s hearing, taking into consideration their age and ability to communicate.
Behavioral tests are often used for infants, allowing the audiologist to monitor how your child responds to various sounds by watching for eye and head movement. In preschool and grade school children, other activities like matching pictures with spoken words or moving items in response to a sound, may be used. If hearing loss is identified, your audiologist will work closely with your child’s pediatrician and other specialists to develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs. Depending on the type and severity of the hearing loss, treatment options can include hearing aids, medications or surgery.
If you notice developmental delays that may be caused by hearing difficulties, speak with your pediatrician about scheduling a hearing assessment. To learn more about our team of audiologists, or to make an appointment for a hearing test, visit dupagemedicalgroup.com/services/audiology.