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How Hearing Loss Affects Speech Development

Hearing is critical to speech and language development, which are critical components of communication and learning. The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child's life, the more serious the effects on their development; just as, the earlier the problem is identified and intervention begun, the less serious the ultimate impact.

Children with listening difficulties due to hearing loss or auditory processing problems may suffer from delayed receptive and/or expressive communication; language deficits that may result in reduced academic performance; poorer self-concept and social isolation; as well as vocational choices.

Children with hearing loss commonly have difficulties with vocabulary, sentence structure as well as with speech. Vocabulary is often slower or delayed in children with hearing loss as speech mimics what is heard. Abstract and function words are particularly difficult to learn and develop, while “naming” nouns are easier. As children get older, the gap with same-aged peers tends to widen without the assistance of intervention. The structure of sentences is often different for children with hearing loss, as they typically comprehend and produce shorter, more direct statements than children with normal hearing. Endings of words, especially those ending in –s or –ed, result in more misunderstandings or misspoken verb tense, pluralization, possessives, etc.

Often parents will bring their children in for testing due to the loudness of their speech, which is common in patients that can’t hear their own voices well enough to appropriately self-monitor. In other cases, some children mumble due to poor stress, inflection, or rate of speech.

Academic achievement is notably more challenging in patients with hearing loss. These children must work harder than their normal hearing peers. The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) documented that, “children with mild to moderate hearing losses, on average, achieve one to four grade levels lower than their peers with normal hearing, unless appropriate management occurs.” High parental involvement and quality support services can obviously help.

Children identified with a hearing loss that begin services and treatment early, can develop language on par with their normally hearing peers. If a hearing loss is suspected, it is important to be evaluated by an audiologist to determine whether hearing loss is present and whether a family-centered treatment option for intervention is recommended to promote language and cognitive development.

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