Problems in school? Find out if your child has a hearing problem
Diagnosing a problem at an early age enables parents to seek timely treatment and prevent it from worseningeducation Updated: Nov 15, 2017 16:43 IST
Parents should be alert to a child’s behaviour - any child with certain special needs will have trouble in a regular classroom. Hearing impairment is a condition that if not caught on time can interfere with the child’s academic and social success at school.
There are some simple things that can be done to informally assess a child’s hearing. Observing the child’s response to a soft bell, to name call, and different noises can give some clue.
5 things alert parents need to watch out for:
Diagnosing a problem at an early age enables parents to seek timely treatment .
Watch of for:
1. An infant who is not startled by loud sounds even when awake, a four- month old who does not turn towards the source of sound or not respond to his or her name.
2. A child who frequently tugs at his or her ear, has ear discharge.
3. A child who has not yet said his or her first word around one year and who does not comprehend simple commands such as “give it to me”, “come here” unless accompanied by actions.
4. In school-going children, mispronouncing words, reliance on facial cues for conversations.
5. A child who frequently asks for repetitions/ mishears commands.
What can be done if there is a problem?
Ideally all newborns should have their hearing screened. But when the parents suspect that there’s a hearing problem or If the child is a high risk baby (preterm babies, family history of deafness etc are considered high risks) then testing of hearing is a must.
Audiological testing can tell the parents about their child’s hearing status. The test is non-invasive. An audiologist performs a battery of tests depending on the child’s age. If the child has ear discharge or pain, an ENT consultation is also necessary.
Once the testing is done, the audiologist will be able to tell whether it is medically treatable or whether the child needs amplification or even cochlear implantation.
Begin treatment at the earliest
Hearing loss in infants/children has huge implications for their speech and academic development. Treatment has to begin at the earliest. Middle ear infections can be treated with medicine prescribed by the doctors. But if the inner ear is affected, then an audiologist will prescribe hearing aids after diligent testing, which may take several sittings. Cochlear implant surgery is also done after careful testing. Speech/language therapy will have to follow this for a prolonged period of time. Admissions to regular schools is possible when the child develops age appropriate speech and language skills. Schools must ensure that the child is included fully in the school - seated in the first row with noise minimised in the classroom.
Hearing aids (costing between Rs10,000 to Rs40,000)/cochlear implants(Rs2 lakh to Rs8 lakh) help a lot.These are expensive but many state governments have schemes for subsidising these devices.
Some parents, especially those who are themselves hearing impaired, may opt to teach sign language to their children and send them to special schools for the hearing impaired.
Banking on technology
Technology has made everyone’s life easier - even for those with hearing impairment. Take for instance, cell phones. Think of the things you do with them - sharing photos, downloading information, uploading posts, sending texts and of course talking to others. A person with hearing impairment can do all of the above with her smart phone. Hearing aids are now technologically so advanced that they can be programmed for telephonic conversations too.
But what about those hearing impaired individuals who can’t talk but use sign language? In earlier times they simply could not communicate with other sign language users unless face to face with them. Now with cameras built into most devices, distance communication for people with hearing impairment has become possible.
Also, you must have often wondered why some people with hearing loss talk while others use sign language. That’s because all of us learn to talk by hearing people around us speak. If we are born deaf we cannot learn to talk unless sounds are loud enough for us to hear- a task that hearing aids also can’t accomplish sometimes. Cochlear implants or bionic ears come to the rescue then. These devices are placed in the inner ear and directly stimulate the cochlea. With therapy these children can learn to talk and go to regular schools. Teachers can use the FM system to enhance the quality of sound and cut down on the background noise.
To learn to talk children with hearing impairment should get hearing aids and cochlear implants, preferably before their first birthday. Technology can also help in diagnosing their problem: Children’s brain activity in response to sound can be measured and then the most suitable hearing device can be prescribed. There are also several apps meant for people with hearing loss or deafness. These range from simple flashing light/vibration in response to sound to those that convert speech to text.
The author is an audiologist and speech pathologist and is a consultant at Samvaad Institute of Speech and Hearing, Bengaluru.