Hearing loss in children can significantly affect mental development, especially in the areas of language and speech. This is why early detection and intervention is of utmost importance. The earlier a child with hearing loss receives therapy and intervention, the higher their chances of normal language and speech development in spite of the presence of hearing loss.
There are many factors that contribute to hearing loss in children. While not all causes are congenital (present at birth), many children lose their hearing at a young age due to genetic and environmental factors. When children lose their hearing before or during the age of language development, it becomes even more critical to receive early intervention. One of the most common causes of hearing loss in children is Otitis Media, characterized by inflammation of the inner ear caused by fluid buildup, which can result to conductive hearing loss.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss in Children
For early detection and intervention to be possible, it is important for parents and caregivers to know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss as early as infancy. Below are some of the signs and symptoms of hearing loss that can be observed by age:
Infants and Toddlers
The most crucial ages for language development is from birth to 4 years of age, which is why it is important to pay extra attention for any signs that may suggest your child has hearing loss.
Infants respond to the many different sounds around them from birth. If you notice that your child does not appear startled or is not awakened in the presence of a loud noise or does not appear to respond or follow your voice when you talk, it can be a sign that there is a problem with your child’s hearing.
From 4 to 9 months, your child should be able to respond by smiling when spoken to and follow familiar sounds. At this age, they also make a lot of babbling noises and can cry differently depending on their needs.
By 9 to 15 months, most kids can say two syllable words like “mama”, understand simple words when spoken to, repeat certain sounds, and responds when called by their names or when they hear the sound of a familiar voice.
By 15 to 24 months, they are able to appreciate songs and stories, follow simple requests, and can say several words or simple sentences. If any of these milestones are absent, it may be a sign that your child has hearing loss.
While kids reach certain developmental milestones at different ages, the absence of most of the aforementioned developments may indicate a problem. Contact your doctor right away and schedule a hearing test.
Preschool and Older
It is easier to detect hearing loss in school-age children because there are more obvious signs that can suggest a problem with their hearing. Some of these signs include:
- Listens to music or watches television at very high volumes
- Does not respond when called
- Speech delays and impairment
- Speaks differently compared to other children
- Does not respond appropriately to questions or requests for questions to be repeated several times before responding
- Experiences head noise and ear pain
- Poor academic performance
It is worth noting that while these are common signs of hearing loss in children, the observance of these signs alone without a proper hearing test will not confirm that your child has hearing loss. A proper hearing evaluation is what will ultimately determine whether your child has hearing loss.
The type and degree of hearing loss will determine the appropriate treatment for your child.
Conductive hearing loss can be treated surgically but it depends on the cause and degree of the hearing loss. Not all hearing loss can be treated; however, some can be managed with electro acoustic devices like hearing aids and specialized speech and language therapy.
Depending on the type and degree of hearing loss, your child’s audiologist may suggest the use of an amplification device like a hearing aid. It is important to note that children as young as 3 weeks of age can already use amplification devices. Children with permanent hearing loss and those that experience frequent loss of hearing caused by Otitis media are all eligible candidates for amplification devices.
Children aged 1 year and above who have severe to profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss may also be eligible for cochlear implants depending on diagnosis, the child’s hearing history, and the decision of the family.
Your audiologist can also recommend management and rehabilitation services for your child. Through frequent checkups and observation, an audiologist and other professionals can determine the ideal intervention program for a child with hearing loss.
While hearing loss has significant effects on your child’s language and speech development, early intervention can help your child develop speech at par with hearing kids.
Children from birth to 21 years of age are eligible for early intervention services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). Infants and toddlers fall under IDEA Part C, which offers early intervention services from birth to 2 years of age. Children and teens from age 3 to 21 are covered by IDEA Part B, which offers special education support and additional intervention programs.
You can also find information and seek assistance from your state’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program (EHDI). EHDI promotes early detection of hearing loss in infants and children and helps families through intervention programs and testing services.
There are also many national organizations that can help children and their families cope with hearing loss such as, the American Society for Deaf Children and the Deafness and Family Communication Center, among many others.