Though most children complain about going to school at some point in their life, studies show that youngsters with hearing loss have a higher incidence of school absences than their peers with normal hearing.
A recent study led by Dr. Jiunn-Yih Su of the Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research, and the Charles Darwin University included aboriginal children from Australia’s Northern Territory (NT). The findings showed that for children with a preventable hearing impairment, there is a negative impact on the early years of the children’s primary school attendance.
The majority of study participants had hearing impairments caused by otitis media. This condition is brought on by a group of inflammatory diseases of the middle ear. There are two main types of this condition. Otitis media (AOM) is a rapid onset infection that usually consists of ear pain. It may cause young children to pull on the ear, sleep poorly, and have more frequent bouts of crying.
Otitis media with effusion (OME) is a collection of non-infected fluid located within the middle ear. Sometimes called serous or secretory otitis media (SOM). This condition can be caused by the accumulation of fluids in the middle ear due to a cold, sore throat, or an upper respiratory infection.
Dr. Jiunn-Yih Su’s study looked at the connections between children with hearing impairment (HI) and their Year One attendance at school. Researchers reported that the kids in this study group with any extent of hearing impairment tended to miss more time at school than their normal-hearing counterparts.
“The silent way in which HI presents in young Aboriginal students can make it difficult to detect, especially for teachers who may be unfamiliar with the children,” says Dr. Jiunn-Yih Su.
Of the children studied, approximately 36 percent had bilateral hearing loss (loss of hearing in both ears), while 55 percent had unilateral (loss of hearing in one ear) or bilateral hearing loss. The attendance rates of children in the Northern Territory have dropped in the past ten years which is cause for concern.
The recommendation upon the conclusion of the study was that “regular surveillance of the infection and hearing for all Aboriginal children living in remote communities. This should be provided during early childhood, when they are entering pre-school, and/or their first year of compulsory full-time education.”
While this study was concentrated on Australia’s Northern Territory population, there are many similarities to children around the world who suffer from bilateral or unilateral hearing loss. Decreased hearing can cause developmental delays early on, as well as at the school-age level.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1.3 out of every one thousand eight-year-olds have bilateral hearing loss of 40 decibels (dB) or more, while 14.9 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 have hearing loss of at least 16 dB in one or both ears. Even hearing loss in only one ear can have a considerable effect on a child’s school performance. Research has shown that anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of children with unilateral hearing loss are at risk of failing at least one grade level.
The skills children need to develop before starting school, such as speech and language development, the ability to communicate and learn new things can be compromised by hearing loss. The symptoms of hearing loss such as a child’s lack of attention, possibly poor behavior, or the apparent lack of desire to communicate are often incorrectly identified as ADD or ADHD.
This leads to poor academic performance, a lack of social abilities, frustration, anxiety, and sometimes into depression or behavioral problems for the child. If the hearing loss is not correctly identified and the proper services are not sought out, children can fall behind up to four grade levels, especially for those with a mild to moderate hearing loss. For kids with severe hearing loss, it’s imperative that treatment and services be found as soon as possible.
Some children with mild hearing loss have the ability to speak normally, but when the person speaking turns away, they are unable to follow the conversation. This is important in the classroom because teachers deal with many children, so they are more apt to write on the board or turn to speak to another child specifically, not realizing that there is a student that did not hear the conversation.
This is why it’s important, at least at the early levels of education, for children to receive special services. One on one or small group sessions will help ensure the child learns how to communicate their questions and needs to others and may help give them the skills to move into a more mainstream learning style as they grow older.
It’s important for parents and teachers to communicate any concerns about a child’s learning and behavior. It’s equally important for parents that suspect their child is dealing with hearing loss to seek testing to determine if there is indeed a problem. In order to offer these children a quality life, they need the attention to learn specific skills that will lead them safely into adulthood.