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People often associate hearing loss with seniors, but it also affects many children – potentially impacting their ability to communicate, learn and develop social skills. Ideally, it will be identified early so appropriate intervention can get started, such as therapy with a speech-language pathologist. On March 3, as part of Hearing Awareness Week, World Hearing Day highlights the one in six Australians living with a hearing problem.
At Growing Early Minds, the week is a reminder of the privilege we have helping children with a hearing impairment successfully communicate, learn and develop their full potential.
Hearing impairment in children
On average, one Australian child is identified with impaired hearing every day, according to the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. One to two in every 1000 babies is born with significant hearing loss and by the end of secondary school, more than 3 in every 1000 children need assistance because of hearing loss.
Congenital hearing loss (hearing loss at birth) can be caused by genetic factors or things that occur before, during or just after a baby is born. According to Aussie Deaf Kids, about 30 per cent of children with genetic hearing loss have a “syndrome” (such as Down Syndrome) – meaning there are other features associated with the hearing loss. The other 70 per cent don’t have a syndrome linked to the genetic hearing loss.
In around 25 per cent of deaf children, the hearing loss has a non-genetic cause, such as prematurity, severe jaundice at birth or an infection the mother had during pregnancy.
Other children develop hearing loss after birth, as the result of an illness, medication, injury or recurrent, severe ear infections.
Why hearing matters
Speech Pathology Australia point out that hearing is one of the keys to communication. Hearing impairment can impact interactions at home, school, and socially.
Because children learn to speak by listening and mimicking what they hear, untreated hearing loss can significantly limit speech development. This can mean children are unable to express their needs and feelings.
And if children can’t hear well at home or in educational settings, it can negatively affect their cognitive development and school performance.
It will also impact how a child can interact with others and develop vital social skills. As Speech Pathology Australia note, the long-term implications of speech and language impairment may include poor academic achievement, risk to mental health, reduced employment options and social isolation.
In New South Wales, a state-wide, universal screening program aims to identify all babies born with significant permanent bilateral hearing loss by three months of age, and for those children to access appropriate intervention by six months of age.
If you suspect your child could have hearing loss, check out this free hearing test app that’s funded by the Australian Government.
Therapy support for children with hearing impairment
Fortunately, research has shown that early diagnosis and intervention make a difference. The Victorian Government’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development note that babies who are diagnosed early and start wearing hearing aids and attending early intervention services by six months of age have better language and learning outcomes than those beginning later.
Many babies born with a hearing impairment will benefit from a hearing aid, and some from a cochlear implant. But it’s important to remember that you don’t need to hear to be able to communicate.
Babies and children use many types of communication including touch, vision, gestures, and body language. Babies learn to communicate their needs long before they can talk.
Many families whose child has a hearing loss learn to sign to their child. In Australia, Auslan is the name of the sign language used in the deaf community. Infants and young children can start with ‘key word signing’ to help them communicate effectively if speech is slow to develop and/or to supplement speech attempts.
Key word signing involves using a vocabulary of core words that are matched to hand signs from Auslan. Speech and signs are used concurrently, by signing the key words within a sentence. Other visual strategies – such as facial expression, body language and finger spelling – are sometimes used to aid effective communication.
Speech-language pathologists don’t assess hearing, but they are trained to assess, advise, treat and advocate for people with communication impairment, and their families.
They support people who have difficulty communicating through strategies such as learning to use the vocal cords or voice box to produce speech, incorporating key signs to communicate their needs and ideas. They also support children to develop fluency, literacy, and social communication.
At Growing Early Minds, our Speech-Language Pathologists can help children learn to speak and communicate clearly. They are experienced in working with children with hearing loss, including those who have experienced trauma, complex needs, developmental delay or disability, including autism.
You can visit our Blacktown clinic, or we can see children at home, childcare, school or playgroup. We also provide telehealth services for families living in remote, regional or interstate locations.
Find out more on our website, or get in touch with us 1800 436 436