Hearing health is something that can often be overlooked by parents. It's not visible, and usually, until the child is meant to have started talking, a hearing problem can go unnoticed. From the moment we are born, we begin to develop language, so any hearing loss needs to be detected and treated as early as possible. [If you are worried about your hearing health, then click here to find out more information about what you can do about that.]
For younger babies there are some hearing milestones your child should reach in the first year of life, for example most newborn infants startle or "jump" to sudden loud noises; by 3 months, a baby usually recognizes a parent's voice; by 6 months, a baby can often turn their eyes or head toward a sound; and by 12 months, a baby can usually imitate some sounds and produce a few words, such as "Mommy" or they can say "bye-bye."
As your baby grows into a toddler, signs of hearing loss may include limited, weak, or no speech, being frequently inattentive, having difficulty learning, or being easily frustrated when there's a lot of background noise.
Language development is not the only thing that depends on your child's ability to hear. Their listening skills also influence their ability to learn to both read and write, their social skills, and are necessary for children learning how to sense danger and hear when something's not right.
If your child is doing any of the following, then it could be a sign that they do have trouble hearing. Here are a few questions to ask yourself or things to look out for:
Does your child seem to hear fine some of the time but then not respond at other times? Perhaps your child wants the TV volume louder than other members of the family? Does your child say "What?" more often or do they move one ear forward when listening, or complain that they can only hear out of their "good ear"? Have you noticed that your child isn't doing as well in school or has their teacher mentioned that your child doesn't seem to hear or respond as well as other children in the class?
If your child says that they didn't hear you, you might think that they're just not paying attention when in fact, there may be an unidentified hearing loss. Something else to look out for is if your child starts to talk louder than previously, or if your child looks at you intensely when you speak to them as if concentrating. This may be because they are depending more on visual cues for interpreting what you are saying than hearing the actual words themselves.
To develop spoken language, children must be able to hear speech clearly, as well as hear themselves. Although hearing loss happens in the ears, the real effect is on the brain, as it is the auditory center that makes sense of sound. This is due to the fact that the ears receive sounds and then send signals to the brain, where they are processed to give meaning.
It is essential to teach children to respect their hearing as then they might be more likely to protect it. For parents, it is important to reduce the amount of time spent listening to loud sounds to reduce the risk of developing hearing damage and use noise-isolating earphones to reduce background noise when in a noisy environment. Remember, kids learn by example so if you can show them that you care about your hearing, they are more likely to care about theirs, as well.