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How can a hearing impairment affect language development?

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30/05/18

There are over 45,000 children in the UK who are deaf and many more who experience some form of hearing loss, whether permanent or temporary. It is also estimated that 1 in 1000 children are born either severely or profoundly deaf.

With this number of children already being affected by hearing loss, it is important to look at how this hearing loss can affect their development and, in particular, their language development. It is well acknowledged that a large proportion of those who are deaf (both children and adults), use British Sign Language (BSL). However, over 90% of the population that are born deaf are born to hearing parents and so, we will take into account the effect of hearing loss on spoken language.

There can be many signs that become present when your child is experiencing hearing loss. Even from an infant, these signs can still appear. An infant or child with hearing loss may find it difficult to locate the source of a sound, have a delayed response to sounds, rely on looking at the person speaking for lip movement or show a lack of understanding of speech in loud environments. There are also many more signs that can indicate a child experiencing hearing loss and so it is important to have your child checked as soon as you feel they might be having any difficulties.

The effects that hearing loss can have on general development can vary from child to child and with the degree of hearing loss they might be experiencing. It has been suggested that children with a hearing impairment are more likely to report feeling isolated and not having many friends which can affect their self-confidence and their social interaction skills. As well as the effect on your child in the emotional sense, academia can also come to be an issue for those experiencing hearing loss. The impairment can cause delays in the development of communication skills, in terms of both receptive and expressive skills (speech and language). In terms of the specific effects that can occur; vocabulary may develop more slowly than those without an impairment. Children may have more of an issue learning more abstract words, such as kind, jealous, equal to as well as words such as a, there and an. As well as these words, children with a hearing impairment may have difficulty understanding homophones (words that are spelt and sound the same but have different meanings). For example, the difference between bank, the side of a river and bank, the institution where money is kept.

In addition to these issues that some children might face, there are also difficulties that can occur with the degree of hearing loss that they experience. For example, a child with mild hearing loss might find it difficult to identify softer sounds (such as that of whispering) whilst moderate to severely hearing impaired children might find it more difficult to hear loud, more clearly defined noises. Hearing loss may be due to many reasons, such as heredity factor or even excess ear wax. Some of the reasons behind an impairment can be treated but others are not so treatable, so it is important to have your child’s hearing checked as soon as you or they find they are experiencing a problem.

In order to help a child with a hearing impairment to develop with as much ease as possible, it is important to intervene in any situation when it is thought that a child might be struggling. It is well known that the earlier a parent or child service is able to intervene, the better the effect on the child. Whether the hearing impairment rectifies itself, the use of hearing aids or implication of a cochlear implant is the right option, there is usually help at hand for a child with an impairment.

If you’re worried about hearing loss, please find your local Hearing Centre or book an appointment online today.

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