Hearing impairment occurs when there's a problem with or damage to one or more parts of the ear. Between 9 and 12 children in every 10 000 live births will be born with at least moderate hearing loss in both ears. In every 10 000 children, 23 will get a hearing impairment that needs a hearing aid by the age of 17. Your child’s hearing impairment can happen at birth (congenital) or start after birth (acquired). Many premature infants will suffer from hearing loss. Some children have partial hearing loss, meaning that the ear can pick up some sounds, (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), others have complete hearing loss, meaning that the ear cannot hear at all (people with complete hearing loss are considered deaf). In some types of hearing loss, a person can have much more trouble when there is background noise. One or both ears may be affected, and the impairment may be worse in one ear than in the other.
Some children who have a hearing impairment have another disability too. There are early intervention services specifically for infants and preschool children with hearing impairment and other disabilities often including physical disability.
What are the types of hearing loss?
There are two main types of hearing impairment – conductive and sensorineural.
Conductive Hearing Impairment
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.
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 the 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 an 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.
How Therapies for Kids can help
Early intervention services
The earlier you find out your child has a hearing impairment, the earlier she can begin therapy and have the 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.