Understanding the condition
Hearing loss can be congenital, acquired or transient.
Babies can have a hearing screening after two days; this period is needed as often there is still some amniotic fluid in the ears. Children with normal hearing are exposed to noise in the womb and immediately to sounds and language as soon as they are born. The sooner hearing loss is detected the better the prospects for the child in terms of their age-appropriate development.
A paediatric audiologist specializes in children’s ears and hearing. The degree of hearing loss can be determined, and a plan can be developed for follow-up and ongoing monitoring.
There are several hearing aid and hearing technologies that can support a child with hearing loss. For children over a year, with severe or profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be inserted. It is important to be aware that none of these will restore a child’s hearing to normal levels.
Congenital hearing loss
Congenital hearing loss means it is present in an infant at birth. This may be caused by genetic and non-genetic factors.
Non-genetic factors include maternal diabetes, substance misuse (drug, alcohol or smoking) by the mother, if the mother had an infection such as toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, the use of ototoxic medication by the mother such as antibiotics, NSAIDS, a nervous system or brain disorder and premature birth.
Genetic factors include:
Autosomal recessive hearing loss – This is the most common form of genetic hearing loss. It means that nether parent has a hearing loss, but each parent has a recessive gene. It is unlikely either parent will be aware of their recessive gene.
Autosomal dominant hearing loss – This form of hearing loss is the result of one parent carrying a dominant gene for hearing loss that is passed onto their child. This parent may or may not have hearing loss, but he or she might have other symptoms or signs of a genetic syndrome.
Genetic syndromes such as Usher syndrome, Treacher Collins syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, Down syndrome, Crouzon syndrome and Alport syndrome.
Acquired hearing loss
Children may experience acquired hearing loss as a result of a perforated eardrum, Otosclerosis or Meniere's diseases, which are progressive, infections like meningitis, measles, mumps or whooping cough, taking ototoxic medications, a serious head injury, exposure to loud noise, causing noise-induced hearing loss, untreated or frequent otitis media (ear infections) or exposure to second hand smoke.
Transient hearing loss
When a child experiences transient (or fluctuating hearing loss) it can also be detrimental to speech and language. It is often caused by middle ear infection and most children will experience it before they are three years old.
As a result of hearing loss children may experience difficulties with:
Language acquisition leading to problems with literacy. Without the right support this can negatively impact on a child’s academic achievement and have long term effects on their employability.
Challenges with social and communication skills may leave children feeling isolated which can lead to low self-esteem, mental health issues such as depression, and anger which could lead to behavioural issues. It is vital to support children to find a way of communicating.
Challenges faced by students
Without a means of effectively communication, children with hearing loss have no means of expressing themselves or participating in school and home life. If a student uses sign language to communicate for example, it is essential she/he has a staff member and other children they can communicate with.
Without a means of communication, children with hearing loss are particularly at risk in the community and in unsafe situations. Nor are they able to express when they feel unwell so what might have been minor health issues can easily escalate into more serious issues if left.