How Does Hearing Loss Affect Speech?
From the moment they’re born, babies begin to learn to communicate. They hear the voices of mommy and daddy and are soon able to recognize these familiar sounds. Before long, they relate these voices to faces, and nonverbal communication begins through gestures and facial expressions. They begin to smile and coo as their world opens up before them. But what if baby is suffering from hearing loss?
These children will have difficulty learning how to communicate if they cannot hear sounds around them. If a child cannot hear well, the communication centers of the brain may not develop appropriately, making understanding and talking a challenge. According to pediatric audiologist Jane Madell, “The auditory brain is critical for learning language, speech perception, speech production, and literacy”
Hearing loss can be identified through screening at birth, but often a parent will suspect that something is wrong when their child’s speech and language skills are not developing or they’re not meeting important milestones. Parents play an important role because early identification and intervention will bring about better outcomes. But early signs of hearing loss are easy to miss.
How can hearing loss be easy to miss?
I’ll never forget the day I brought my 2-year-old son in for a hearing screening because his articulation just sounded a little “off” to me. When the audiologist said that my son has bilateral conductive hearing loss, I couldn’t believe it! As a speech pathologist, how could I have missed it? This news rocked my world.
Rather than being in denial or procrastinating, the best thing we can do for our children if we even suspect a communication problem is to take them in for screening, and the earlier the better! For children to speak, they must first be able to hear. The American Speech-Language-
Hearing Association states that two in every 100 children will experience some sort of hearing loss. The cause can be congenital, accidental, health-related, or a result of ear infections.
Let’s talk about ear infections, or otitis media, an infection that causes fluid to build up in the middle ear. Some kiddos only get an occasional ear infection, whereas some poor soul can’t seem to go a month without getting another one. It can be exasperating! Not only can ear infections cause a lot of pain, but the fluid can lead to varying degrees of hearing loss or sound distortion, as if you’re under water.
If this happens over and over, then most likely your little one is not clearly hearing the words you say or the sounds you articulate, and therefore they cannot properly learn to make these sounds.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
The following chart from Healthy Hearing shows hearing milestones that will help you to discern whether your baby needs professional help.
Important Next Steps if You Suspect Hearing Loss
I hate to be a broken record, but again, if you suspect that something is not right, don’t ignore it! Hearing loss can impact speech and language skills. If your child isn’t meeting speech and language milestones, it is critical to start the evaluation process with a hearing screening. This can be done by your pediatrician, or an ASHA certified audiologist or an ENT (ear, nose, throat specialist). Ruling out hearing loss should always be the first step in treating a communication disorder.
Studies show that children with mild to severe hearing loss tend to develop a language that can be understood, and even those with profound hearing loss learn how to speak. Early intervention is key.
To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check our Talk on Track: Baby Course (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!