Hearing Loss and Speech Language Development

by Care Speech Pathology 
9 August 2022

A child’s speech and language development are dependent on their ability to hear, and even a mild or temporary hearing loss can lead to developmental delays.

The good news is that, when identified early and supported in the right way, a child with hearing loss can make considerable progress in catching up with their peers.

What should I know about childhood hearing loss?

Childhood hearing loss can be present from birth or acquired in the early years. It can range in severity from mild to profound. It can be permanent or temporary in nature, and it can occur for a variety of reasons.

Children with hearing loss have a reduced ability to hear sounds in the environment around them, including the sounds of other people speaking. This makes it difficult for children to listen to and learn language from the people around them.

In fact, in many cases, difficulty with developing speech and language is the first sign that a child might be having difficulty with hearing. It is therefore important that all children experiencing speech or language delays visit an Audiologist for a hearing test.

Although some children with hearing loss might seem to be able to hear – for example, they might look in the direction of noises – this doesn’t mean they are able to understand everything you are saying.

The sounds we use when we are speaking are actually a lot softer than other noises we hear in our environment. This means they can be a lot more difficult for children with hearing loss to hear and tune in to. Even a mild hearing loss is likely to affect a child’s ability to hear and understand the sounds of people speaking.

So, my child definitely has hearing loss. What now?

There are several treatments and supports available for children with hearing loss, including amplification to improve hearing, surgical procedures that can partially or fully restore hearing, and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) methods (such as Australian Sign Language- AUSLAN) that support people with hearing loss to communicate.

The treatment or support that is most suitable will depend on both the degree and permanence of the hearing loss. Audiologists, Otologists and Speech Pathologists are all involved in the management of hearing loss.

What can a Speech Pathologist do?

Regardless of the cause and treatment pathway, Speech Pathologists have an important role to play. Speech Pathologists work closely with children and their families to support their speech and language development and to help close the gap between them and their peers.

People with hearing loss communicate in several ways, depending on their degree of hearing loss and their personal preferences. The most common ways are spoken language, signing and/or a combination of both. Speech Pathologists can assist people in learning, practising and optimising their chosen communication techniques based on their individual needs.

Speech Pathologists also work with families, teachers and other people in the child’s life to provide education about the child’s new communication method. They can also provide additional recommendations to support the child (such as modifying the classroom environment to make it as accessible as possible for the child with hearing loss).

If you have a child with hearing loss and would like to book an initial consultation with a Speech Pathologist from our team, please contact us on 1300 086 280 or at [email protected].

References

Stelmachowicz, P.G., Pittman, A.L., Hoover, B.M., Lewis, D.E., & Moeller, M.P. (2004). The importance of high-frequency audibility in the speech and language development of children with hearing loss. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg,130(5). 556–562. doi:10.1001/archotol.130.5.556

Carney, A.E. & Moeller, M.P. (1998). Treatment efficacy: Hearing loss in children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. https://doi.org/10.1044/jslhr.4101.s61

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