Have you ever wondered if your infant or child is hearing properly? Many parents of children with a hearing loss are all too familiar with the scenario in the film Mr. Holland's Opus: The mother suspects a hearing loss in her infant son because he doesn't seem to respond appropriately to the sounds around him. The father is stunned to hear his wife's suspicions, and the couple visits the doctor only to have their worst fears confirmed.
Fortunately for the Hollands, their son's hearing loss was identified in infancy. All too often, one parent (or the doctor) tells the other parent that the baby is just fine, or to wait and see since the time period for normal language development can vary. As a result, nothing is done to test the child's hearing, and the parents find out months or years later that the initial instinct was correct.
Should you be concerned about whether your infant is hearing normally? Approximately three in every 1,000 babies are born with a loss that is considered to be significant. Many more are born with more mild forms of hearing loss. In even mild cases of hearing loss in infants and children, speech and language development can be delayed along with the child's academic and social/emotional development.
If you suspect your child is having difficulty hearing, acting promptly is crucial. In studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), children identified before age six months as having a hearing loss develop language significantly better than those children who are not identified until age six months or older. Studies show that in some children who are diagnosed with a hearing loss before six months of age, normal language development compared to that of typically developing, hearing peers, can occur. Unfortunately, the average age that most children are identified in the United States is two years.
Another reason to act promptly is that a child's brain is designed to learn a language by the time he or she is six years old. The first three years of this development are the most crucial. After age six, learning a language and speech to produce the language becomes increasingly difficult.
What can you do to have your infant or child's hearing tested if you suspect a hearing loss? Consult your pediatrician or family doctor right away, and make an appointment with a professional who is trained in testing young children for hearing loss. This may be an ear, nose, and throat specialist or an audiologist.