Hearing loss among U.S. children is on the rise. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the prevalence of hearing loss among U.S. adolescents rose 31 percent between the late ‘80s and mid-‘00s.

Some children are born with hearing loss, while others develop or acquire it. Recently, the issue of noise-induced hearing loss due to misuse of personal audio technology among young people (i.e., listening at too loud volumes for too long) has gained significant attention as a global health issue.

The ramifications

The consequences of hearing loss in children can have life-long impact. Hearing loss can affect a child’s communication, social skills and learning. Among the specific challenges, children with hearing loss may have:

  • Difficulty with tasks involving language concepts, memory and comprehension and speech perception and production.

  • Delays in development, reading, spelling, math and problem-solving.

  • Lower scores on achievement and verbal IQ tests.

  • Greater need for enrollment in special education or support classes.

  • Self-described feelings of isolation, exclusion, embarrassment, annoyance, confusion and helplessness.

  • Lower performance on measures of social maturity.

Early intervention

The good news is that the negative effects of hearing loss can be mitigated. Critical to this is early identification and intervention. Whether it’s a failed newborn hearing screening, failed school hearing screening, or a loved one simply noticing a possible problem, immediate follow-up with an audiologist for a comprehensive evaluation is key.

Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every child with hearing loss is entitled to receive free, appropriate early-intervention programs from birth to age 3 and throughout the school years (ages 3 to 21). These services are provided through local health departments or school systems, depending on the state.

When it comes to managing hearing loss in school-aged children, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed to maximize the child’s success in the educational environment. These may specify audiology services, speech-language pathology services and services of teachers of the deaf or hard of hearing.

Helpful solutions

There are many things that can be done to help a child hear or otherwise access classroom instruction. One of the keys to success is effective amplification, often through use of technology such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and FM systems in which a teacher uses a microphone. The other is creating a teaching environment where noise is significantly reduced.

With the latter, there are a variety of teaching strategies and classroom modifications that can assist students with hearing loss. These include:

  • Seating the child close to the teacher (and away from heating or AC units and other noise sources).

  • Obtaining the student’s attention prior to speaking.

  • Using visual aids or captioned videos/DVDs whenever possible.

  • Providing supplemental one-on-one instruction.

  • Allowing additional time for school assignments and projects.

Those are just a few of dozens of enhancements that can be made. And while students with hearing loss often face additional challenges, with appropriate intervention and the collaboration of family, school and medical staff, a child can achieve the academic and life success she deserves.