A hearing impairment is any hearing loss that prevents a person from totally receiving sounds through the ear. This can range from a difficulty hearing faint or distant speech to profound, total deafness where one cannot hear anything. Hearing impairment is categorised as mild, moderate, severe or profound. There are a number of different causes, including genetics, exposure to noise, some infections, birth complications, trauma to the ear, certain medications or toxins. Chronic ear infections can result in hearing impairment, and certain infections during pregnancy such as rubella can also cause hearing impairment.
Hearing tests are now conducted on young babies, and hearing impairment will usually be picked up at this point.
In children a hearing impairment can affect the ability to learn language, and later on education may be affected. Impaired hearing can also have an effect on a child’s social development as they cannot easily communicate with their peers. The inability to communicate may also cause behavioural and emotional problems.
A child with mild hearing loss usually has normal speech but may still experience difficulty in a school setting as it is difficult to hear speech from a distance such as a teacher at the front of a classroom, or where there is background noise, as in classrooms or across a crowded hall or play area. A mild hearing loss will not be detected in some children until they attend school and this becomes an issue.
Children with moderate hearing loss can clearly hear speech only when the speaker is very close to them. They may need hearing aids to help with detection of softer sounds and to acquire understandable speech.
A child with a severe hearing loss cannot perceive speech no matter how close they are to the speaker. They will require special help as well as hearing aids to allow them to develop understandable speech. Children with severe hearing loss are unable to hear the clues usually available in speech sounds for example pitch and stress. With a hearing aid they can detect vowel sounds and some consonants and they will also use visual clues from lip reading to help them to understand.
A child with profound hearing loss receives even less auditory information and will often depend greatly on their vision to perceive speech.
Some organisations that can offer advice and support:
The Ear Foundation