When most people think about hearing loss, they automatically associate it with the aging process. Did you know that, of the 360 million people worldwide who experience hearing loss, 32 million of them are children? Perhaps even more disconcerting is that 60% of these children experience hearing loss as a result of preventable causes (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs300/en/).
It has been long recognised that hearing loss and, specifically, the difficulties that often arise in communicating, can have knock-on effects such as social anxiety and isolation. In children, however, the issues may be even more severe: hearing loss can lead to developmental delays (http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Effects-of-Hearing-Loss-on-Development/).
Specifically, these issues manifest in speech and language. Difficulties with things such as vocabulary, sentence structure and speaking can have impacts upon academic achievement, often resulting in poor performance and, later in life, decreased vocational choices.
These issues suggest that children who experience hearing loss should be particularly well placed to receive additional support from teachers and educational authorities. Recent research suggests, however, that Scottish schools are struggling to provide the resources that these children need.
The fact that a child is hard of hearing may not be the real reason for developmental issues. Instead, it may be that a child is perfectly capable, but is overlooked by teachers. A recent study (http://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2014/deafchildren-201119) from the University of Edinburgh indicated that this is especially true for children with mild hearing loss. As they have better language skills than a child with severe hearing loss, they are often underserved and insufficiently supported.
In fact, the study (http://www.hear-it.org/children-teenagers-and-hearing-loss) found that in Scottish schools, children with mild hearing loss were not performing any better than children with severe hearing loss. The study points to resources, or lack thereof, given to children with mild hearing loss. The study found that children with severe hearing loss received 17.2 hours of support each week, whereas children in the ‘mild’ category received only 1.6 hours of support. Children with moderate hearing loss were not much better off – they received only 2.6 hours of support per week.
Dr Rowena Arshad, Head of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education, focused on increased communication and cooperation between parents, teachers, education authorities and researchers to address the clear disparities between levels of hearing loss in children.
Another study (http://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52644-Australian-study-highlights-impact-of-early-intervention-for-children-with-hearing-loss), conducted in Australia, follows 450 Australian children from birth throughout their school years, and is still on-going. This longitudinal study suggests that early intervention in the form of hearing aids or cochlear implants could lead to a significant improvement in future learning.
Researchers first evaluated the children at 6 and 12 months, after switching on a hearing aid or inserting a cochlear implant. The children were re-evaluated at ages 3, 5 and 9. The study is currently in its 12th year, with researchers planning on assessing the children again at ages 15 and 22.
Researchers (https://outcomes.nal.gov.au/) are looking at long-term educational outcomes as well as speech, language and psycho-social outcomes more generally. Specifically, the research (http://www.hear-it.org/children-teenagers-and-hearing-loss) is indicating that children with hearing aids or cochlear implants from an early age have better language and learning outcomes than children who are fitted with devices later in life.
This study is certainly promising, and one to watch over the next 10 years!
Unfortunately, some research indicates that hearing loss may become a reality for more young people over the coming years. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a warning (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ear-care/en/): it estimates that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are currently at risk of hearing loss, specifically due to increased exposure to recreational noise.
The WHO considers the unsafe use of personal devices such as Smartphones to be one of the key factors responsible for an increased risk of hearing loss in young people. Attendance at noisy venues such as nightclubs, concerts and festivals is another concern.
The WHO recommend limiting the time spent listening to personal audio devices, and wearing earplugs to noisy recreational activities. Taking breaks during these events is always a good idea as well. Noise-cancelling headphones can go a long way, in that they require less volume and therefore are less likely to expose a person to dangerous levels of noise.
If you have a child with hearing loss and are looking for information or support, or you simply want to know more about childhood hearing loss, the National Deaf Children’s Society (http://www.ndcs.org.uk/family_support/childhood_deafness/) has a whole host of information available.
Call us on 0131 220 1220 for more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced hearing professionals.