Hearing loss in children

Hearing technology helps relationships grow

Kids and hearing loss

Hearing loss affects 1-4 infants per 1000 births.1 This number is far greater if children with fluctuating hearing loss (resulting from ear infections) and unilateral (one-sided) hearing loss are included.

As a parent, educating yourself about hearing loss in children is the first step towards making the best decisions for your child’s future. Acting early in your child’s life is very important.

Ears are the doorway to the brain

We’re accustomed to thinking that we hear with our ears, but in fact, we hear with our brain.2 The ear is the structure that captures raw sound from the environment and directs it to the brain, where auditory information is processed and given meaning. As such, our ears can be thought of as “doorways” to the brain, where hearing truly occurs.

Children with a hearing loss have a “doorway issue”. Any impairment, whether mild or profound, unilateral or bilateral, means that sound cannot get through the doorway of the ear and reach the brain as it should.

How sounds reach the brain – the ears

Your child’s ears are unique. Even the left and right ear are different in shape and size. The ear has three main parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear.

Sound is captured by the outer ear and travels down the ear canal to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The vibrations are passed to the small bones of the middle ear, which increase the loudness of the sounds before they reach the inner ear.

In the inner ear, small hair cells move and release a chemical telling the hearing nerve to send an electric signal to the brain. When the electrical signal reaches the brain it is translated into meaningful sound.3

Where meaning is made from sounds – the brain

In the first few years of life, brain development is rapid and complex, and every new experience taken in by a child’s senses creates connections and neural pathways. Repetition is essential for strengthening these pathways, and in the case of hearing, repeating words and sounds helps develop a child’s brain.

Hearing loss in kids - why it’s important to act early

For children with hearing loss, sounds do not reach the brain as they should. Thus, not only do kids with hearing loss have trouble hearing sound but they also miss out on the opportunity to develop the neural pathways that are of such fundamental importance for their development.

Hearing loss in babies is even more pressing because we already start hearing weeks before we are born.4 Consequently, a newborn with hearing loss will have already lost weeks of the usual development of its neural pathways at birth and it becomes even more urgent to act fast.

Hearing aids for children

The purpose of the technology behind devices such as hearing aids and wireless microphones is to successfully deliver auditory information to the brain by compensating for blocked doorways. As such, we like to think of hearing technologies as door-opening devices.

Learn more about hearing aids for children

Conversations build relationships

By giving children access to a world full of conversations, we can help them develop the relationships and skills they need to live life to the fullest – to play, interact, learn, communicate and ultimately, succeed.

Strong relationships help children understand their world, strengthen brain architecture and support the development of communication and social skills.5

The power of serve and return

Back-and-forth interactions and conversations provide the basis for these important relationships and are known as ‘serve and returns’. Filled with developmental benefits they stimulate neural connections, shape brain architecture and support the development of communication and social skills.5 These interactions encourage children's curiosity and help them understand their world.

Both quantity and quality matter

The quantity of words and conversational turns a child is exposed to influences brain development and helps with developing vocabulary and academic outcomes.6,7 Young listeners need access to millions of words and thousands of hours of listening to develop spoken language and literacy.6,8

It's not only the number of conversational turns that is important but also the diversity and complexity of the language you use and how clearly your child can hear it.9

Why every sound counts

For families choosing a listening and spoken language (LSL) outcome for their children, access to sounds is very important. Young listeners need access to millions of words and thousands of hours of listening to develop spoken language and literacy.

Research tells us that access to the clearest possible sound from the earliest age, maximises a child’s chances for healthy speech, language, and social development.2

Every conversation counts

 

1. Look for communication efforts from your child and provide an appropriate response back.

Phonak Tennis Illustration
 

The 'serve' includes all communication attempts like a young baby's "coo", a toddler's pointing or an older child asking "why?". The 'return' is any appropriate response back, whether it's a smile, a facial expression or words. When you return a serve, your child knows that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged.

 

2. Ask your child questions and take time to actively listen.

Questions encourage children to be active turn-takers. And when you make an effort to actively listen, you acknowledge your child and strengthen the bond between the two of you. You can make the most of these interactions by using rich and varied vocabulary and stimulating your child’s imagination with questions.

 
Boy with toy and dad
 

3. Build serve and return interactions into daily routines.

OCHL_Study_Outcomes_Illustration
 

Everyday routines are perfect opportunities for increasing serve and return interactions. For example, when changing diapers or during morning walks to school. By doing so, conversations become a natural way of communicating and your child gets meaningful interactions throughout their day.

 

4. Ensure conversations are not missed.

By giving your child access to clear, rich sound in every situation, they will not miss out on conversations and bonding opportunities. Your child needs:

  • Well fit hearing aids that are worn every waking hour
  • Roger microphone technology use when in loud noise or over distance6
  • Removal of disturbing noises (e.g. turn off the radio, close the windows).
 
Illustation_roger_bar_cmyk
 

Signs, types and causes of hearing loss in children

If your child does not consistently ‘return’ (or respond appropriately to surrounding sound or your words), it could be because they are not paying attention. However, inconsistent ‘returns’, could be a sign of an inability to hear properly. Take note of any changes in your child’s behavior and look for clues that might indicate hearing difficulty.

Signs, types and causes of hearing loss

Hearing tests for children

Hearing tests for children

Your child’s hearing can be tested in a number of ways. The main purpose of a hearing test is to determine if a hearing loss is present and, if so, the severity and type of hearing loss.

Hearing tests for children

Ears are the doorway to the brain

It may be helpful to think of ears as being doorways to the brain and hearing loss as a doorway problem. If sounds do not reach the brain as they should, important auditory information is lost. In fact, the part of the brain devoted to hearing can actually become reorganised over time.

Learn how we hear

What you can do to help your child

Thanks to modern hearing technology, the future for children with hearing loss looks brighter than ever before. Our dedicated Sky M hearing aid portfolio has been designed specifically with children in mind. In challenging listening situations, like in noise or over distance, Roger technology can further improve speech understanding10 and provide greater access to speech11,12.

How to help your child

With Roger technology use in the home, children are exposed to up to 5,300 more words in an 8-hour day.10 They also have access to 12% more child directed speech compared to using hearing aids alone.11

Together, we can change your child’s life

At Phonak, we understand the listening needs of children and the importance of providing them with the best access to all of the sounds in their environment. Phonak has over 45 years of expertise in the field of paediatric audiology and we work closely with leading paediatric specialists, hearing healthcare professionals and teachers to create innovative holistic solutions for our future generations.

References 

1 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Causes of Hearing Loss in Children. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Causes-of-Hearing-Loss-in-Children/.
2 Flexer, Carol (2018). The ears are doorways to the brain. Phonak Insight, retrieved from www.phonakpro.com/evidence, accessed February 19th, 2018.
3 National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). How Do We Hear? Retrieved from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/how-do-we-hear
4 Mayoclinic. Pregnancy week by week. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/fetal-development/art-20046151

5 National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Brain architecture. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/, accessed August 19th, 2019.
6 Hart, B., & Risley T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Paul H Brookes Publishing.
7 Romeo, R. R., Leonard, J. A., Robinson, S. T., West, M. R., Mackey, A. P., Rowe, M. L., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2018). Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function. Psychological Science, 29(5), 700-710.
8 Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention. Viking.
9 Hurtado, N., Marchmann, V. A., & Fernald, A. (2008). Does input influence uptake? Links between maternal talk, processing speed and vocabulary size in Spanish-learning children. Developmental Science, 11(6), 31-39.
10 Thibodeau, L. (2014). Comparison of speech recognition with adaptive digital and FM wireless technology by listeners who use hearing aids. American Journal of Audiology 23(2), 201-210.
11 Benitez-Barrera, C.R., Angley G., & Tharpe, A.M. (2018). Remote microphone system use at home: Impact on caregiver talk. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, Vol. 61, 399-409.
12 Benítez-Barrera, C., Thompson, E., Angley, G., Woynaroski, T., & Tharpe, A.M. (2019). Remote Microphone System Use at Home: Impact on Child-Directed Speech. Journal of Speech Hearing Language Research, 62(6): 1-7.