Current technology now permits the accurate assessments of hearing in children starting within a few hours of birth. A child with undetected hearing loss may not be able to develop normal speech and language or acquire the cognitive abilities (knowing, thinking, and judging) needed for learning. Children whose hearing loss is not identified until, for example, 2 or 3 years of age may suffer from permanent impairment of speech, language, and learning.
The early identification of hearing loss permits the initiation of treatment and rehabilitation of the hearing-impaired child at a very young age. The child can then learn more normal speech skills when hearing loss is identified early and intervention begins. Hearing loss can range from a mild impairment to profound loss. Many people think that hearing is only graded as normal or deaf. They may also think that the child is hearing normally if he or she is responding to sounds and voices. However, there are many subtle gradations between normal hearing and deafness and a child’s hearing loss may not be apparent.
For example, it is common for a child with moderate hearing loss to develop speech and language and yet miss over half of what is being said. A child in this situation will have a distinct disadvantage in development and learning and will often reach a point where advancement stops unless the hearing loss is detected and treatment begins.
The stress on a child with hearing loss (and their family) can be enormous because the child does not understand why it is constant struggle to learn seemingly simple material (and the family is baffled as to why their bright child is not doing well). The degree of hearing loss often determines the impact it will have on the child throughout life. However, with early identification and treatment, the impact can be lessened.
There are a number of risk factors for hearing loss in children, so there are a number of special reasons why a child’s hearing may need to be screened or tested. Common indications for a hearing evaluation include:
- speech delay
- frequent or recurrent ear infections
- a family history of hearing loss (hearing loss can be inherited)
- syndromes known to be associated with hearing loss (for example, Down syndrome, the Alport syndrome, and Crouzon syndrome)
- infectious diseases that cause hearing loss (for example, meningitis, measles, andcytomegalovirus [CMV] infection)
- medical treatments that may have hearing loss as a side effect, including some antibiotics and some chemotherapy agents
- poor school performance, and
- diagnosis of a learning disability or other disorder, such as autism orpervasive developmental disorder (PDD).
If you’re worried about your child, talk to your GP today.