Hearing loss is one of the most dominant birth defects in the USA. Statistics indicate that in every 1,000 infants, 3 of them already have hearing loss. Children may be born with hearing loss or it may be developed. The severity of the hearing loss varies from child to child. While some will only experience partial hearing loss, others are born with the complete hearing loss. Despite the levels of severity involved, hearing loss typically affects a child’s ability to develop speech or language. This is because hearing is integral for speech development.
With early intervention (as early as six months), children who are facing challenges with hearing can be helped. Before looking into how hearing loss might negatively impact a child’s ability to communicate, it is essential to understand the factors that cause hearing loss and the symptoms that parents need to look out for.
What are the causes of infant or childhood hearing loss?
Research has pointed out that there are many factors that can lead to hearing loss. These factors can be categorized into those which are present at birth, known as congenital, or those that are acquired after birth.
To begin with, congenital causes include both genetic and non-genetic factors. However, a higher number of children develop hearing loss due to genetic factors such as autosomal recessive hearing loss or common genetic syndromes such as Treacher Collins or Down Syndrome.
Congenital causes include things such as:
Factors relating to the mother: Certain diseases during pregnancy might result in hearing loss if the infant also gets affected either during the pregnancy or at birth. This includes viral infections such as herpes, syphilis, German measles, toxoplasmosis, etc. It is, therefore, recommended that both the mother and doctors in such cases should keenly observe if the child is showing any symptoms. Additionally, infants who are born to mothers who used drugs and alcohol during their pregnancy are more likely to develop hearing loss. To add to that, it has been discovered that pregnant women or children who use ototoxic medication might develop hearing problems. Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to keep off from using such medication.
Premature Birth: This is yet another factor that is likely to cause hearing challenges. Most of the healthy babies have a weight of 3 pounds or more at birth. However, prematurely born babies might not have developed enough to get to such a weight. As such they might have to be given some drugs to boost their respiration. Others might end up being on a ventilator for a prolonged time. These two factors might subsequently cause hearing loss.
Brain Disorders: Children who are born with are also more susceptible to hearing loss.
Non-congenital factors include:
Ear infections: If left untreated for a long time, these infections might lead to a buildup of fluids in the ear which might ultimately cause hearing loss.
Other Infections: Infections such as meningitis and whooping cough can potentially cause partial or absolute hearing loss.
Symptoms of hearing loss
The above are some of the common factors that cause childhood hearing loss. Other than knowing these factors, it is important that parents or caretakers be able to identify the symptoms of hearing loss in children. For instance, a newborn who does not respond to loud noises such as a bang of the door might have a hearing loss. Once a child gets older, they should be able to recognize voices or the direction they are coming from. If your child is unable to do that by the fourth month, you should take him or her to be screened by a professional.
How does hearing loss affect speech?
Hearing loss affects the development of the essential parts of the brain that aid communication. This is because such children are unable to hear what people around them are saying. These children find difficulty in being able to not only talk but also understand because their brain is unable to learn traditionally.
Children who have hearing loss often have a delayed development in their expressive and receptive communication. Given that it impacts the child’s auditory processing, which is crucial for language and speech, they experience challenges building their expressive and receptive vocabulary and pronouncing different phonemes within the English langauge.
Due to the delayed development of speech and language, these children often have difficulty in building language. Other children who do not have hearing challenges may be more advanced in vocabulary. Children with hearing loss find it hard to pronounce words that have the /sh/ or /f/ sound due to these phonemes being low frequency. Therefore, another symptom of hearing loss may be children mispronouncing or eliminating low frequency phonemes. This can make it difficult for the communication parter to make meaning out of what they are trying to communicate.
As a result of delayed vocabulary, these children also find it hard to understand words that have more than one meaning. In addition, they struggle with words which end in ‘-s’ and ‘-ed’. This factor further affects the development of their speech as such children have difficulty in not only understanding but also pronouncing words that are in past tense or in plural form.
Hearing loss also impacts on the ability to differentiate certain words based on their sound frequencies. Most words have one part with a high frequency and another part with a low frequency. For instance, in a word such as jump, the first part /ju/ has a higher frequency compared to the second part. Children who have hearing loss, therefore, experience difficulty in figuring out the part of the word that has a low sound frequency.
Lastly, when you consider sentence structures, most of children with hearing loss have challenges with more complex grammatical forms (e.g. compound sentences or passive sentences). They find them hard to comprehend and therefore children with hearing loss may revert to utilizing short and direct sentences.
As stated earlier, early detection of hearing loss is crucial because there are various treatment options that might be of help. For instance, when deemed necessary, they might give such a child a hearing aid or other assistive listening devices. Cochlear implants are also provided as an alternative to hearing aids. These options together with speech therapy can be crucial towards improving speech development.
There are various causes of infant hearing loss. Due to childhood hearing loss affects speech and language development, it is imperative that children find a comprehensive medical team to help find effective treatment options.