As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to succeed and strive to create a nurturing environment for them from the moment they’re born. In order to fully support a child with hearing loss, parents need to learn about helpful tools and techniques for communication, and also make sure that their infant receives treatment with hearing aids as early as possible. Hearing plays an important role in the development of language and many other important skills (verbal and social), and this development begins at birth, making early treatment essential.
How are language and speech developed?
Being exposed to a large variety of words of sounds in their environment helps children to acquire language, making their own first sounds, and eventually words. During this early language development, other skills are learned which are fundamental to the development of literacy. A child’s listening skills influence their capacity to speak, read, write and interact socially with others.
Some interesting facts about children and language development:
- The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills.
- Babies as young as four weeks can distinguish between similar syllables like "ma" and "na."
- By six months of age, most babies recognize the basic sounds of their native language.
- “Baby talk” (in which a varied pitch, higher tone, simple vocabulary, repetition and emphasis of important words are used) helps infants pay closer attention to speech, especially amidst background noise, and also helps to teach them how language works.
How might hearing loss affect child development?
Hearing their parents, other family members, and themselves helps children to develop spoken language. Hearing loss has been shown to cause delays in both receptive and expressive communication skills, which can lead to other problems such as poor academic performance and social isolation later on, if the loss is left untreated. Fortunately, early diagnosis and treatment of hearing problems can greatly reduce their negative impact on a child’s linguistic and social development.
Children with hearing loss may encounter a variety of challenges at different points in their lives. Their hearing loss will have a different impact on their lives when they make the transition from being mostly at home to going to school and taking part in leisure activities. Although hearing loss presents some challenges, there is no reason a child who is hard of hearing cannot have a full, productive and happy life.
How hearing aids can help
Although hearing aids cannot completely restore a child’s hearing, they can significantly improve their quality of life and help them learn from the world around them. And hearing aid technology is now advanced enough that children can be fitted with hearing devices within the first weeks or months after birth.
Hearing aids make it possible for children to hear the rich, varied sounds of language, as well as other sounds in their environment, which will help them in many different ways. They will be able to understand and interact with their surroundings as well as develop the ability to learn, ask questions, play with others, and express themselves confidently through language.
Hearing aids and brain structures
Even children who are born with very minimal hearing abilities can benefit from hearing aids, as the amplification of sounds helps to stimulate and promote growth in the auditory centers of the brain. The most connections in these centers are made when children are very young, between the ages of 1 and 3. These connections help with the growth of a child’s vocabulary, which often expands by four times between their first and second birthday. This rapid auditory growth is another reason why treating hearing loss with hearing aids as early as possible is crucial for speech development.
Tips for communication with children with hearing loss
- Make sure to stay close to your child when speaking, as this is necessary for them to detect and comfortably hear what you are saying.
- Remember that communication is about more than just our words. Facial expressions, gestures and body language can also help your child understand you.
- Make sure your face can be seen, is well lit and that your hand or another object is not blocking your face or lips.
- Speak clearly at a normal pace, and rephrase sentences (rather than just repeating them) if your child doesn’t understand you. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to shout.
- Talk in a quiet setting, making sure to reduce as much background noise as possible before speaking. This includes turning off the TV and closing any windows. If you are in a loud public place, try to find somewhere quieter to talk.
At Arizona Balance and Hearing Aids, we provide pediatric hearing services. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation.