Hearing Loss in Children: What Signs Should Parents Look Out For?
It’s normal for parents to worry about their babies. Newborns and young children are challenging, no doubt about it. And with a lack of sleep and exhaustion, parents can be overwhelmed with all the changes in their lives. Many times they find themselves wondering if they are doing the right things for their baby. Does my baby have hearing loss? Should I get a hearing test for children?
Hearing loss is not uncommon amongst children of all ages: Six out of every thousand children have some type of unilateral or bilateral hearing loss.
The following article is designed to be a guide to your child’s hearing health. It will provide necessary information about when to seek a hearing test for children, where to find help and what signs to watch out for as your child grows.
Signs That Your Baby Can Hear Fine
Your baby passes the newborn hearing test
All babies born in Australia will be offered a newborn hearing test. This is a quick, painless hearing test that is routinely done while your baby is sleeping. Make sure your baby gets this test, which includes a simple, age-appropriate hearing assessment. And don’t forget to follow up on any recommendations given.
But why test your baby’s hearing so early?
As hearing loss may not be noticeable in the first few weeks of life, screening is the first step to recognising and diagnosing hearing loss in babies. Without hearing testing, a baby with hearing loss may not be diagnosed until 12 months of age and sometimes up to three years of age.
This is too late as it’s a very important period for speech and language development. These children are at a much higher risk of language, social and academic delays and impairments later in life.
Your child’s hearing and speech development by age:
- Newborn to eight weeks of age – your baby startles or widens their eyes at sudden noises and is woken or stirred from sleep by noise.
- Eight weeks to four months – your baby will look towards the direction of any surrounding sounds and may quieten while listening.
- Six to 12 months – your baby will turn their head towards known voices or sounds. Babies will start to babble.
- 12 to 18 months – your baby knows the names of their favourite things and begins to imitate simple words and sounds.
- 18 to 24 months – your baby has a small vocabulary of single words and can understand simple directions such as “give it to mummy.”
- Two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years – you baby has clear speech with a good vocabulary.
If your baby has not reached any of these milestones, don’t worry, every kid is different and minor delays are often no reason to be concerned. Most children will sooner or later catch up. Yet, if you have any reason to believe that your baby or young child may be suffering from a hearing impairment, do not hesitate to consult with your GP.
It is always a good idea to schedule a hearing test for children. You can find a local paediatric audiologist or ask a doctor or maternal child health nurse to help you find one. It is important to seek early intervention for hearing loss, as it may affect the child’s speech and language development. Untreated hearing loss carries a lot of risks.
Signs of Hearing Loss in Older Children
Some signs that your older child may have a hearing loss include:
- Your child often appears inattentive and does not respond when called.
- When there is background noise your child has difficulty hearing.
- Your child finds it difficult to locate the source of a sound.
- Your child pronounces words incorrectly.
- Your child often needs to have instructions repeated.
- There are frequent misunderstandings of what is said.
- Your child speaks too loudly or too softly.
- Your child always likes to watch television with the volume turned up too high.
- If your child looks at you intensely when you speak to them, as if concentrating, they may be depending more on lip-reading to understand speech.
- Your child has a lot of trouble hearing over a distance.
- Your child cannot tell the difference between one sound and another.
- Your child falls behind in the classroom or their teacher reports that they do not seem to hear or respond as well in the classroom as others do.
- Your child tends to become withdrawn and quiet in group situations.
- Your child complains of a ringing sound in their ears (tinnitus).
- Your child appears to be prone to daydreaming.
- Your child will hear well some of the time and then not respond at other times.
- Your child says “What?” Or “Pardon?” more often.
- Your child turns one ear forward when listening, or he complains that he can only hear out of his “good ear.”
- Your child says that they didn’t hear you. This may seem obvious, but many parents assume that their children are not paying attention when in fact there may be an unidentified hearing loss.
- You have a feeling, but you can’t put your finger on what your concern is. Don’t let that stop you.
If you are worried about hearing loss in your child, ask your doctor for a referral to a trusted, local audiologist, and get a children’s hearing test to ease your mind. A children’s hearing test is quick, easy, painless and will even be fun for your child. Your audiologist will discuss the results of your child’s hearing test at the end of the appointment.
For more information, we recommend checking out Deaf Children Australia’s guide on recognising hearing loss in children.
When You Should Have Your Child’s Hearing Tested by an Audiologist
Your child experiences recurrent ear infections.
When a child suffers from repeated ear infections, they can experience fluctuating hearing loss. This hearing loss is likely to be temporary and may require medical intervention. A children’s hearing test is important to determine if the infections are causing hearing loss.
Your child has slower than expected speech and language development.
This can be caused by a number of things. Children with a speech and language delay will need a children’s hearing test to see if hearing loss is the cause.
You are concerned that your child is experiencing hearing loss.
Any parental concerns of a child’s hearing loss will be taken seriously. An audiologist will do a children’s hearing test and make recommendations for medical treatment and appropriate referrals if necessary.
When is a Child Old Enough For a Hearing Test?
Your child is old enough to get a hearing test when it has enough muscle strength and control to move their head towards the source of a sound. That is usually right around the 4-month mark. You can have your baby’s hearing tested through the Newborn Hearing Screening Programs all around Australia.
If you only come to suspect that your baby or child is suffering from hearing loss at a later point, contact your GP for a referral to a hearing health professional to have your child’s hearing assessed. Don’t delay testing, because if your child does have hearing loss, it may affect their speech and language development.
Where Can You Get Your Child’s Hearing Tested?
It can be difficult to identify if a child is struggling with their hearing or not. The younger they are, the more difficult it gets, because they do not know how to articulate their experience. When they are too young to communicate or unaware there is a problem, children often silently attempt to deal with these problems themselves, which can lead to isolation and a range of health issues.
Audiologists are hearing health professionals that deal with all sorts of hearing impairments. They can assess your child’s hearing, help you manage existing hearing loss, if any, and devise a treatment plan.
The friendly and experienced Attune Hearing audiologists work with children of all ages, from babies and young children to teenagers all around Australia. They can quickly identify hearing difficulties with stress-free and age-appropriate hearing tests.
What Does a Hearing Test for Children Involve?
There are different ways to test children depending on their developmental age and abilities.
VRA (visual reinforcement audiology)
Age: 10 months – 2.5 years
This is a hearing test for older babies. The child is trained to turn towards a puppet or cartoon when they hear a sound. This hearing test will usually start with sounds played through a speaker and may progress to the child wearing headphones or a bone conductor. Unlike the newborn test, your baby needs to be awake for this test. The audiologist will usually be able to give you the results immediately. Occasionally a return appointment is required.
Age: 2.5 years – 6 years
This is a fun children’s hearing test where your child will play a simple game with the audiologist while wearing headphones. Each time they hear a sound, they will do a simple task like placing a peg in a board to build a tower or putting a marble in a chute.
A painless pressure test that shows how the eardrum is moving. A small tip is placed on the outside of the child’s ear and the child will hear a humming sound. A probe in the small tip will measure the volume of the ear canal and how well the eardrum is moving. This will provide information about the outer and middle ear and aid in diagnosing hearing loss.
Timing is everything
Please keep in mind that timing is everything. The sooner you identify hearing changes in your baby or young child, the better. Have a chat with your pediatrician if you think that your child may be affected by hearing loss.
If you have concerns that your child has hearing loss, do not delay booking a children’s hearing test with your trusted, local Audiologist. Attune Hearing is here for all of your hearing needs and will provide you and your child with the right pathway to better hearing.