No child left behind due to hearing loss
Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D. - Better Hearing Institute, Washington, DC
Too many children in America's schools are being left behind simply because they aren't getting adequate help for hearing loss.
Even mild hearing loss can cause serious problems for children. Yet, hearing problems remain one of the most commonly under-recognized and under-addressed issues in the classroom today.
When educators, parents, and pediatricians underestimate the impact of mild or unilateral (affecting only one ear) hearing loss on a child, the child is left vulnerable to a wide range of social, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems.
Early manifestations of a child's hearing problem can begin as an unexplained downward slide in either school performance or behavior, oftentimes being mistaken for other conditions such as attention deficit disorder (ADD). But hearing problems can quickly grow into much larger issues when a child's adult support network-both inside and outside of the classroom-either doesn't recognize the problem or minimizes its impact on the child.
According to a study conducted by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI), hearing loss leaves children vulnerable to a myriad of problems that can filter into virtually every aspect of their lives. 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%), and relationships with family (36%).
A large part of the problem is that many parents either don't recognize their child's hearing problem, minimize it, or have been given misinformation regarding what can be done about it. In fact, according to the BHI study, four in ten parents were told that their child did not need amplification because they had hearing loss in only one ear. Two in ten parents were mistakenly told that their child could not be helped because they had high frequency hearing loss. And 20 percent were told they could not be helped because they had a low frequency hearing loss.
Perhaps most alarming, however, 32 percent of the parents surveyed cited embarrassment or other social stigma issues as the reason their child did not use a hearing aid. As a result, only about 12 percent of children under the age of 18 with hearing loss who would benefit from hearing aids are using them. The study also found no evidence of the use of any form of hearing assistance for these children in the classroom (e.g. FM systems, hearing aids, speakers), other than front-row seating.
For these reasons, it is incumbent upon educators to stay alert to the signs of hearing loss in children. If a teacher suspects that a child is having difficulty hearing, the educator 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. Signs of a child's unaddressed hearing loss in the classroom are frequently associated with attention, behavior, and language skills. For example, a child with unaddressed hearing loss may not seem to pay attention to instructions; may have a short attention span; might drift off or daydream frequently; could be easily distracted; might have trouble with phonics, spelling, articulation, and reading/language arts; may seem to lack the motivation to learn; could exhibit either overactive or aimless behaviors; might act in an aggressive or withdrawn manner; and may frequently shows excessive fear or anxiety.
By no means does the solution to the problem of unaddressed hearing loss in America's children lie solely with teachers. Parents, pediatricians, school administrators, and policymakers need to be educated on the issue.
But there are low-cost measures that teachers can take in their own classrooms to help these children as well. Most teachers can take the following steps on their own:
- Teach children to create good listening environments by making eye contact, reducing distance, taking turns speaking, and reducing the noise they themselves make.
- Make sure the child is not sitting near sources of noise-such as the heating and cooling system, hallways, or the playground. And when applicable, seat the child in the front of the row with his better ear toward the teacher.
- Let the child move around the classroom if it enables him or her to better see the speaker.
- Assign someone who can help the child with note taking.
- Make every effort to speak slowly and clearly.
- Always speak toward the class, even when writing on the board. Don't turn away or cover your mouth while speaking.
- Write down key words or visual aids related to the lesson on the board.
- Always write assignments on the board so the child can copy them down.
- Rephrase things. If the child doesn't understand something, say it again in a different way.
- Encourage schools to install sound field systems in classrooms. These systems amplify the teacher's voice, which is then delivered through speakers strategically placed in the classroom-something that benefits all the children so they all can hear equally well, no matter where they are sitting.
Too many children in America are being left behind because too many adults either underestimate the impact of mild and unilateral hearing loss on children or aren't educated enough to assess the difference between behaviors caused by hearing loss and those caused by other conditions.
Educators, policy makers, healthcare providers, and parents must thoroughly address the issue of hearing loss in children if we are to allow these children a fair and equitable opportunity for success. We all are responsible for better serving America's children with hearing loss.