Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Even Minor Hearing Loss Puts Kids at Risk for Learning Problems, Better Hearing Institute Warns

Washington, DC, August 9, 2010 - Children with even a mild hearing loss are at risk for learning and other social, emotional, and behavioral problems, the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) warned today.

BHI is urging classroom teachers to be alert to the needs of children with unaddressed hearing loss, which is often overlooked or attributed to other learning and behavior-related issues, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD). BHI also is urging schools to incorporate hearing health education into the curriculum and to adopt hearing protection policies.

The warnings came as schools across the country are opening their doors for the start of the school year.

“Too many children with hearing loss aren't getting adequate help and are being put at risk”,   says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, executive director of BHI and co-author of the national study, Are 1 Million Dependents with Hearing Loss in America Being Left Behind?  “Educators, pediatricians, and other healthcare providers underestimate the impact of mild hearing loss. And sadly, it’s the kids who are suffering.”

The scientific literature is clear that untreated hearing loss affects nearly all dimensions of the human experience. And the pediatric literature demonstrates that even children with "minimal" hearing loss are at risk academically compared to their normal hearing peers.

Hearing loss of any type or degree in a child can present a barrier to “incidental learning.” Up to  90 percent of a young child's knowledge is attributed to incidental reception of conversations around him or her. Hearing loss poses a barrier to the child's ability to overhear and to learn from the environment, as well as miss a significant portion of classroom instruction.

Hearing loss also frequently causes a child to miss social cues. Not surprisingly, many of the symptoms of unaddressed hearing loss in children overlap those of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD).

A large part of the problem is that many parents today either don't recognize their child's hearing problem, minimize it, or have been given misinformation regarding the ability to treat it.  At least 50 percent of parents don't seek additional professional testing when their infant fails an initial hearing screening.

According to Eileen Rall, AuD CCC-A, an audiologist from the The Center for Childhood Communication of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, teachers can help children with undiagnosed hearing loss.  She said:

"First and foremost, teachers can pay attention to the listening environment of the classroom and how the students are functioning in it. There are many low cost, creative ways to improve the acoustics of a classroom including something as simple as teaching children to create good listening environments—make eye contact, reduce distance, taking turns speaking and reducing the noise the students are making themselves. Some schools install sound field systems in their classrooms. Sound field systems amplify the teacher's voice and deliver his/her voice through speakers placed strategically in the classroom. Most importantly, teachers who suspect that a child is having difficulty hearing should bring it to the attention of the child's parents and school administrators so the child can undergo a thorough hearing assessment by an audiologist."

Some basic steps that teachers can take on their own to help a child with a confirmed or suspected hearing loss include the following:
  • Arrange the child's seating away from the heating and cooling system, hallways, playground, and other sources of noise. If the child's hearing loss affects only one ear; if it's greater in one ear, seat the child in front of the room with his better ear toward the teacher.
  • Allow the child to move around in the classroom to clearly see the speaker.
  • Assign a helper, or notetaker, for the child.
  • Try to speak clearly and not too fast.
  • While you are speaking, don't turn away to write on the board or cover your mouth.
  • Write key words or visual aids for the lesson on the board.
  • Write assignments on the board so the child can copy them down into a specific notebook used for this purpose.
  • If the child does not understand something, rephrase what you have said rather than repeat the same words again and again.
"Children need to be able to hear, not just in the classroom, but also because hearing affects language competence, cognitive development, social and emotional well-being, and academic achievement" says Kochkin. "Children who cannot hear well—that is, when their hearing loss is untreated or under-treated—could face a life of underperformance and broken dreams."

According to Kochkin:
  • Only 12 percent of children under the age of 18 with hearing loss use hearing aids; yet an estimated 1.5 million youth (including adult dependents) under the age of 21 have hearing loss that may be improved with amplification.
  • The study found no evidence of the use of any form of hearing assistance in the classroom (e.g. FM systems, hearing aids, speakers), other than front-row seating.
  • Hearing loss leaves children vulnerable to other problems, according to three out of four parents of children with hearing loss. Common problem areas include:
    • Social skills (52%)
    • Speech and language development (51%)
    • Grades in school (50%)
    • Emotional health (42%)
    • Relationships with peers (38%)
    • Self-esteem (37%)
    • Relationships with family (36%)
Compounding the problem is the increased use of portable media devices such as MP3 players, which children are listening to at high volume levels for long periods and putting their hearing at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 12.5 percent of children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years—or approximately 5.2 million youth—have permanent hearing damage from excessive exposure to noise.

"Parents, healthcare providers, and educators need to come together to thoroughly address a child's hearing loss if we are to allow that child a fair and equitable opportunity for success," says Kochkin. "As schools gear up for the start of the new academic year, I strongly encourage all educators to do their part to recognize the problem of unaddressed hearing loss in the classroom and to advocate for these children.”

Republished at www.EdisonStanfordHearing.com

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