In Australia, 1 in every 1000 babies will be born with a significant hearing loss. In school-age children, 2 in every 100 children will have been identified with some form of hearing loss.
It is the role of the Audiologist to determine if the child has a hearing loss and then identify the type of hearing loss. An Audiologist is a University graduate who specialises in diagnosing and treating hearing loss in children and adults.
Hearing loss in children can be either of a permanent nature, damage to the inner ear or middle ear related which can be potentially resolved with or without medical intervention.
There are a number of early signs and symptoms that may indicate whether a child has a hearing loss and therefore needs testing by an Audiologist.
Why is it important to Detect and Test Early?
It is important that children with hearing loss be identified as early as possible. The aim is to minimise the impact of hearing loss and improve quality of life. The early identification of hearing loss is vital for a child’s overall development and is provided with the best possible start to life. This ensures that the child has the optimum conditions for the development of speech and language. Other benefits include improvements in the areas of social and emotional development, educational as well as employment opportunities later in life.
The sooner a hearing loss is identified, the sooner treatment and when appropriate rehabilitation, can occur.
Before a child is seen by an Audiologist to start the process of determining if they do have a hearing loss and identify the type of hearing loss, there are warning signs and symptoms of which to be aware.
These signs and symptoms vary for different age groups. All typically developing babies and young children have the same developmental milestones. Babies develop at different rates but should reach the milestones in the same order. If the parents or health professional observed the absence of any of these milestones then a referral to an Audiologist is recommended.
1/ Parental Concern
The first thing an Audiologist is going to ask is if a parent has concerns about their child’s hearing. Parents are a wonderful resource in identifying hearing loss in children. Their opinions should not be discounted because they are not a professional. They are professional at knowing their child and intuition should never be dismissed.
2/ Hearing and Listening:
It is important to know what milestones one should expect at each developmental stage so if they are absent this can serve as early signs that the child may be having hearing issues and is another reason why the child needs to be assessed by an Audiologist.
- Birth to 3 months: your baby should startle at a loud noise, may be aroused from sleep by loud sounds and start to cooing and gurgling. If she’s upset, she should calm down when she hears your voice.
- 4 -7 months: your baby will turn her head or eyes to locate a sound. More interested in sounds, eg noisy toys and voices. Babble will become more frequent and tuneful. She will understand simple words like “bye-bye”.
- 8-12months: better at locating sound in different directions and increased general responsiveness to everyday sounds.
- Older children may ask for repeats or say “what?”.
If the following occurs, be aware that a hearing loss may be present:
- Carefully watching speakers’ faces
- Sitting too close to the television with high volume
- No awareness of nearby people when they’re not in view
3/ Speech and language delay:
If your child is deaf or hard of hearing, the following milestones will be absent:
- 9 months: Your baby should understand basic words, especially mummy and daddy
- 10 months: Your baby should start babbling, creating syllables, and saying simple words
- 12 months: Your child should start speaking real words
- 18 months: Your child should understand simple phrases and commands and use about 20–50 words. Say simple words like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, copy simple sounds and use her voice to get attention from people nearby. Your baby should respond to her name.
- 24 months: Your child’s vocabulary should include over 150 words, and she should use simple sentences
- Children having speech pathology are not progressing as anticipated
4/ Exposure to diseases that have hearing loss in children as a possible complication:
-Ear infections are the most common infectious disease in children associated with hearing loss with nearly 100% of all children developing some form of hearing loss. Ear infections may cause pain and discomfort. Children can be observed pulling on ears or have red ears. They may also comment that they can hear crackling in the ears. If this occurs, your GP should be contacted.
- Other bacterial and virus disease such as Bacterial meningitis, Cytomegalic Inclusion Disease (CMV), mumps or measles can all result in permanent hearing loss. The supervising medical specialist is aware of hearing loss being a side effect and a follow-up hearing assessment should be arranged.
5/ Educational concerns:
All the following may be signs of a possible hearing loss.
- School-age children are not thriving educationally as expected
- Children having difficulties with following instructions, paying attention or the teacher makes the observation “the child seems to be daydreaming/off with the fairies”
- Difficulties with spelling, reading and writing
There is not always just one sign that a child has a hearing loss and you may notice a combination of behaviours as well as delayed milestones in your child. Any concerns you may have should be voiced to your medical specialist, who will be able to provide you with a referral to have your child’s hearing ability assessed by an Audiologist. The Maternal Child Health Nurse, Speech Pathologist, Kinder and School teachers can also play a role in identifying hearing loss and requires assessment by an Audiologist.
It’s always better to have a hearing test and find nothing wrong than miss an underlying hearing loss that could impact your child’s future development and possibly have long term hearing consequences. Please contact Attune Hearing, Australia’s only accredited hearing healthcare provider, for more information or to book a hearing test with one of Attune’s qualified audiologists.