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What to do if you suspect your child has a hearing loss

It’s that time of year again. Children are back in the classroom, and with that sometimes comes the dreaded “note sent home from school." Whether it is for classroom misbehavior, poor grades or an incident on the playground, one thing is certain: that missive your child sheepishly hands to you rarely contains good news. Only this time, you tear open the envelope and find a letter stating your child has failed a school hearing screening, or that the teacher has some concerns about his hearing. What do you do next? 

Where to start

Finding out your child may 
have hearing loss is most
likely scarier for him. Here 
are some tips to talking to
your child about hearing 
The important thing is not to panic. The hearing screenings given by the schools are pass/fail, with not much wiggle room given if your child just happens to be having a bad day. If your child failed it could also be due to other factors such as a less than ideal testing environment (a noisy gymnasium, for example), congestion or poorly fitting headphones.

The concern might not be over a failed hearing screening, either. Since not all states mandate hearing screening in schools, an attentive teacher might have noticed a problem in the classroom that might indicate a hearing loss. You might be thinking, “There is no way he has a hearing loss! If I say the word “dessert” from three rooms away he comes running!” But it is important to remember that just because a child appears to hear normally at home doesn’t mean he will necessarily be able to hear well in a noisy classroom environment with entirely different acoustics. Some problems that teachers might look for are:

Doesn’t seem to be paying attention.
Looks to other children to imitate them.
Doesn’t seem to follow or understand instructions.
Asks, “What?” often.
Gives unrelated answers to questions.
Talking to your child

No matter what the source of the concern, it is important to have the conversation with your child about hearing loss. The following questions are a good place to start:

Do you feel like you have trouble hearing the TV sometimes?
Do you feel like school is harder because sometimes you can’t hear the teacher?
Do you feel like your teacher mumbles?
Do you ever have pain in your ear, or a funny humming or buzzing sound?
Do you have trouble understanding your friends, and often feel like you missed the joke?
If the hearing examiner or the teacher has indicated a possible problem, the next thing to do is find a hearing care professional in your area and make an appointment for a full hearing examination for your child. Remember your child may be nervous or apprehensive, so before the appointment it is important it is important to allay his fears and answer any questions he might have. Let him know that the test isn’t painful, and will simply involve putting on a pair of headphones and listening to some sounds. Talk to him about making sure to pay attention and follow the audiologist’s instructions closely. Also, you might have your child try on a pair of headphones before the appointment so he can get used to how they feel.

What to expect at the hearing test

The most common tests for kids are the pure tone hearing test and speech audiometry test. During the pure tone hearing test the child wears headphones, and is asked to respond to sounds by raising a finger, pressing a button or pointing to the ear that heard the sound. The test determines the faintest tones a child can hear at a range of frequencies. A speech audiometry test records the faintest speech that can be heard 50 percent of the time, and can also include word recognition.

In rare cases, some pain-free tests of the middle ear might need to be performed. Measuring the acoustic reflex, measuring the volume of air in the ear canal or simply using air pressure can determine whether there is fluid in the middle ear, eardrum perforation or wax in the ear canal. These tests can also measure mobility of the eardrum to determine whether it is too stiff, moves too much or has a perforation. Lastly, they can help determine location of the problem as well as determine the type of hearing loss.

Where to go from here

The results of the testing will not only help the hearing care professional determine whether there is hearing loss, but the degree of hearing loss as well. If there is hearing loss, it is important to know to what extent learning, communication and social skills will be affected. Afterwards, the hearing care professional will recommend a course of treatment which may include hearing assistive devices, as well as referrals to other professionals that might help. Some of these include speech-language pathologists, medical professionals or educational interventionists.

Remember, untreated hearing loss in children can affect everything from social interactions to emotional development to learning. So if you or your child’s teacher suspects a hearing loss, be sure to get it checked out right away by a hearing care professional.
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