Hearing impairment is when your child’s ears can’t do all the things they should be able to do. For example, your child might have muffled hearing, or he/she might not be able to hear sounds coming from some directions, or he/she might have trouble hearing certain frequencies or sounds.
What are the types of hearing loss ?
There are two main types of hearing impairment – conductive and sensorineural.
Conductive hearing impairment is when sounds from outside your child’s ear have trouble getting to or going through the different parts inside the ear. Conductive hearing impairment is usually temporary.
In sensorineural hearing impairment, the nerves that are in charge of receiving sound and sorting out what it means don’t work properly. Sensorineural hearing impairment can be mild, moderate, severe or profound. Sensorineural hearing impairment usually lasts for life and can worsen over time.
Some children have only conductive hearing impairment. Others have sensorineural hearing impairment as well. This is called a mixed hearing loss.
Universal newborn hearing screening
In Australia, universal newborn hearing screening is an essential part of diagnosing hearing impairment in children. All Australian states and territories have a universal newborn hearing screening program that aims to:
- screen the hearing of all babies by one month of age
- refer any babies with possible hearing impairment for diagnostic testing with an audiologist by three months of age
- start early intervention for those babies with hearing loss by six months of age
What is screening ?
Screening equipment plays specific sounds into your baby’s ears and records the responses from your baby. The screening technology might be different in different parts of Australia. In most places, your baby will be screened in hospital, before you take your baby home. Each state has its own way of following up on babies who don’t have a hearing screen in hospital.
Each state also has its own way of referring babies to audiology and supporting parents and families. Hearing screening isn’t compulsory. You have to give your permission for your baby to be screened, which means signing a consent form.
If the screening test doesn’t pick up any hearing problems at birth, or your child didn’t have his hearing screened as a newborn, but you’re concerned about your child’s hearing, speech or language development, ask your doctor to refer you to an audiologist to get your child’s hearing tested.
Early diagnosis of hearing impairment means your child can get early intervention and support. This can make a big difference to her language development. If your child has undiagnosed hearing impairment in early childhood, she could miss out on essential learning and development opportunities.
The Australasian Newborn Hearing Screening Committee website has links to each state and territory newborn hearing screening program, as well as other important newborn hearing screening links.
Signs of hearing loss
All typically developing babies and young children have the same developmental milestones. Babies develop at different rates, but should reach the milestones in the same order. If your baby has a hearing impairment, he won’t hear people speaking, which means he might not respond to your voice and other noises in the way you’d expect. As he gets older, you might notice that his speech and language aren’t developing like other children’s.
As a guide, here is what you’d expect in a typically developing baby. If your little one isn’t doing these things, it might be a good idea to talk to your GP or maternal child and family health nurse.
- From birth to four months, your baby should startle at a loud noise, turn her head or move her eyes to locate the source of the sound. If she’s upset, she should calm down when she hears your voice.
- From 4-8 months, your baby should notice sounds around her, smile when spoken to, babble and understand simple words like ‘bye-bye’.
- From 8-14 months, your baby should respond to her name, say simple words like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, copy simple sounds and use her voice to get attention from people nearby.
- From 14-24 months, your child will start to develop vocabulary, understand and follow simple instructions, and put two words together.
How can we help ?
Early intervention services
The earlier you find out your child has a hearing impairment, the earlier she can begin therapy and have language to communicate with. It also means you and your family can get advice and support as soon as possible, giving your child the best start in life.
It can be hard to know what to do when you first find out your child has a hearing impairment. Through early intervention services, you can work with health professionals who will help you learn how to spend time with your child in ways that support his development.
Children learn the most from the people who care for them and with whom they spend most of their time. When you learn some tips for playing, connecting and communicating with your child throughout the day in ways that will encourage her hearing and development, it can help her a lot.
The team of professionals who might be involved in supporting you and your child includes:
- Speech Pathologists
- Special Education Teachers