The ability to hear is really important for babies and young children. In the first few years of life they develop speech and language skills faster than at any other time. As recently as 30 years ago, it wouldn’t become obvious to caregivers that children had hearing impairment until they were around two years old – when it became obvious that they weren’t yet talking.
But today even newborns can be tested and treated for hearing loss. Research has demonstrated that detection and intervention for hearing loss before six months offers significantly better outcomes than later intervention. Hearing screenings for newborn children has become universal across the United States – children with hearing loss are identified and treated at a much younger age.
Roughly 14 babies per 10,000 have a hearing loss, and fifty out of every 10,000 older children are impacted, with cases being diagnosed between ages 3 and 17. There are several possible causes for hearing loss in children – congenital and acquired. It’s important that parents, caretakers, physicians, teachers and others know the signs of hearing loss. If it remains undiagnosed, it can cause significant development and emotional problems for children. But diagnosing the problem can help children remain on track with language and developmental skills.
Congenital hearing loss is present at birth. There are both non-genetic and genetic factors that cause congenital hearing loss. Genetic factors account for more than 50 percent of all hearing loss in children, whether present at birth or developed later in life. Non-genetic factors include birth complications, premature birth, brain disorders, certain medications, and infections. Drug or alcohol abuse by the mother and smoking during pregnancy are also risk factors.
Hospitals routinely perform hearing screening on infants in the first hours after birth. If an infant fails the initial screening, he or she is usually scheduled for a second screening a few weeks later. Sometimes, infants who pass the hearing screening at birth may exhibit signs of hearing loss as they age.
One way to determine if your child’s hearing is developing appropriately is by monitoring important speech and hearing milestones. From birth to four months, your infant should:
- Startle at loud sounds
- Wake up or stir at loud noises
- Respond to your voice by smiling or cooing
- Calm down at a familiar voice
From four months to nine months, your infant should:
- Smile when spoken to
- Notice toys that make sounds
- Turn its head toward familiar sounds
- Make babbling noises
- Understand hand motions like the bye-bye wave
From 9 to 15 months, your infant should:
- Make various babbling sounds
- Repeat some simple sounds
- Understand basic requests
- Use her voice to get your attention
- Respond to his name
From 15 to 24 months, your infant should:
- Use many simple words
- Point to body parts when you ask
- Name common objects
- Listen with interests to songs, rhymes and stories
- Point to familiar objects you name
- Follow basic commands
Older children can have hearing loss that is either permanent or temporary. Here are some things to look for if you think your toddler or preschool-age child might have hearing loss:
- Has difficulty understanding what people are saying.
- Speaks differently than other children her or his age.
- Doesn’t reply when you call his or her name.
- Responds inappropriately to questions (misunderstands).
- Turns up the TV volume incredibly high or sits very close to the TV to hear.
- Has problems academically, especially if they weren’t present before.
- Has speech or language delays or problems articulating things.
- Watches others in order to imitate their actions, at home or in school.
- Complains of ear pain, earaches or noises.
- Cannot understand over the phone or switches ears frequently while talking on the phone.
- Says “what?” or “huh?” several times a day.
- Watches a speaker’s face very intently – many children’s hearing loss escapes detection because they are successful lip readers.
If you notice that your infant or child shows any of the above signs, make an appointment with our doctors. There has never been more hope for children with hearing loss, even those with profound loss. If you suspect it might be an issue with your child, don’t hesitate to come in with your questions and to have your child tested.