If you’re the parent of a young child (or even a not-so-young child), you’d be familiar with the constant worry and anxiety that comes with being responsible for the survival of a little human being who likes to run on the road and lick power outlets. To add to the extensive list of things to consider when caring for our kids is hearing loss. But if your little one is pre-verbal and either can’t tell you that they can’t hear well, or simply doesn’t realize they don’t hear normally, how do you know if they’re not listening or just can’t hear when you call them?
Hearing is particularly important in children as it is crucial for the normal development of speech and language skills, as well as general social skills. Research tells us that treating any hearing loss before a baby turns 6 months old is associated with better outcomes for speech and language development. This is why all newborns in the United States are offered a hearing screening test before they go home from the hospital. Approximately 1 to 3 out of every 1000 babies are affected by hearing loss, whether in one ear or both. Even if a newborn baby passes the hospital screening test, this does not mean they are in the clear forever. It’s important to continually be on the lookout for any signs of abnormal hearing.
13 Signs of Hearing Loss in Babies and Children
So, is your kid silent upstairs because they can’t hear you call them down for tea or are they just busy building an unstable tower of furniture to leap off? Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate abnormal hearing.
- Doesn’t startle at sudden loud noises as a newborn
- Doesn’t appear to recognize his parent’s voice by the age of 3 months
- Doesn’t turn towards sounds by the age of 6 months
- Not saying single words, such as “mama”, by 12 months of age
- Reacting when she sees you but not when you call out her name
- Speech development below the normal limits for his age
- Difficulties learning as reported by her teachers
- Often asks for a louder TV volume
- Frequently asks you to repeat yourself
- Doesn’t respond to conversation or answers appropriately as if he’s misunderstood
- Appears frustrated when there is background noise
- Complains of discomfort or pain in her ears
- Appears to concentrate very intently on a speaker’s face as if he’s trying to lip read
If your child says she didn’t hear you, if may be tempting to dismiss it as thinking she didn’t want to hear you. However, if you begin to notice other signs that your child is perhaps not able to hear as normal, such as delayed speech, it could be worthwhile having her hearing tested.
Hearing Tests for Children
Newborn hearing screening is quick and painless, often taking only a few minutes. In fact, your baby can even be sound asleep during the test. Tiny probes or electrodes are used to measure the reaction of the nerves of the ears in response to sounds. As fluid or debris caught in the ears can flag problems on the test, any failed screening will usually be repeated within 3 months to validate the results.
For older babies, a hearing test known as visual reinforcement audiometry may be performed as early as 6 months old. This involves the hearing specialist playing a sound through speakers on either the right or left side of the baby. When the baby reflexively turns towards the sound, he or she is rewarded with something visually interesting, like a moving toy or colored lights.
Once a child reaches the toddler stage, a dancing doll may be less of an incentive to sit still in a strange room. At this age, many pediatric hearing specialists may instead gain an idea of a toddler’s hearing ability by turning the test into a game. For example, every time the child hears a sound, he or she is asked to put a ball in a basket. Staying engaged in the game is reinforced by the parents and tester cheering, applauding, or complimenting the child each time.
By school-age, many children can understand and cooperate with hearing tests similar to those conducted on adults. This can involve audiometry testing, tympanometry, and acoustic reflex tests. Most children can also tolerate wearing earphones during the test, which allows the hearing specialist to gain more information about each individual ear.
If your child is diagnosed with abnormal hearing, there are treatments and therapies available to help maximize his or her potential for normal language and academic development. These include being fitted with hearing aids, cochlear implants, or being offered speech therapy and extra assistance at school.
If you’re concerned that your child genuinely can’t hear you calling them down for dinner, it may be time to visit your local hearing specialist. Alternatively, you may want to just double check that there isn’t an unstable tower of furniture isn’t about to come crashing down!