Could hearing loss be the cause of my child's poor academic performance?

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Hearing loss can affect a child's performance at school.
Hearing loss can affect a child's performance at school.

Picture a student in class who misbehaves, is constantly distracted and struggles to obtain good results.

Your first thought might be that the child is struggling with a learning disability. However, you might want to consider the possibility of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss is more common than you might think. According to the South African Hearing Institute, about 7.5% of South African school children suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss.

How does hearing loss impact learning ability? 

Hearing is fundamental to speech and language development, learning and communication in a child. As the result of hearing loss, delays occur in the development of speech and language. Those delays then lead to learning problems, resulting in dismal school performance.

However, the link between hearing loss and poor performance in the classroom is often not initially made. Poor academic performance may be accompanied by poor behaviour and the inability to pay attention. As a result, children with hearing loss are often misdiagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADD and ADHD.

Hearing loss does not equate to a lack of capability. In many instances, the classroom setting itself is not conducive for a child with hearing loss. For example, a teacher who has to deal with many students, or a teacher not equipped to teach a child with hearing loss, will most likely struggle to change their teaching style to accommodate them.

Signs of hearing loss vs. learning problems

There are signs that teachers should look out for in the classroom in order to identify learning problems or hearing loss.

Learning problems: 

  • Trouble with reading and writing
  • Problems with basic maths
  • Difficulty remembering concepts
  • Struggling to follow directions
  • Impulsive behaviour 
  • Poor coordination
  • Inability to stay organised

Signs that parents or teachers should consider hearing loss:

  • Inappropriate responses to questions
  • The child often asks you to repeat things
  • Struggles to say words and sentences correctly
  • Has difficulty focusing on one voice when several people are talking
  • Speech problems
  • Constant daydreaming in class
  • Inability to follow instructions

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, children with hearing loss may not use sounds like ch, p, s, sh, f, t or as these are quiet sounds that are hard to hear. Imagine the frustration of not being able to hear these consonants that convey meaning in the English language. This makes it easier to understand the daily academic struggles of a child with hearing loss.

Early intervention

Research has shown that intervention in the early stages is key to stimulating academic performance on par with their abilities.  

new study reports that children with severe hearing loss demonstrated a much lesser degree of average or above average performance than their hearing peers, even when fitted with cochlear implants (CIs). Having bilateral CIs at younger ages predicted the best outcomes. 

Teachers are able to help students by gaining knowledge on how a child with hearing loss receives and processes information.

A child who is having difficulties in school should be examined by a hearing healthcare professional, especially if there is a history of hearing loss in the family. Once the results have been determined, proper treatment can be recommended.

For many, hearing aids are the first choice. There are three types of hearing aids which can assist in the hearing quality of your child:

  • The smallest model, which is placed deeply in the ear canal and therefore barely visible
  • The discreet in-the-ear model
  • The small classic behind-the-ear model

While intervention is vitally important for successful academic performance, support both at home and at school is crucial. If you think your child is suffering from hearing loss, book an appointment with their paediatrician or a hearing healthcare professional. 

Image credit: iStock 

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