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Hearing Disorders
Authors: Saraswathy Ramamoorthy with Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE

There are several types of hearing disorders. Some children with hearing disorders can hear a little, while others hear nothing at all. Some children with hearing disorders may be able to hear sounds well, but they will not be able to understand what they are hearing. Hearing takes place when sound waves enter the ear. Sound waves are created by any type of noise. The waves move through special bones in the ear and reach certain nerves. These nerves, then, send signals to the brain. So anything that keeps the sound waves from moving through the ear or the nerve signals from reaching the brain causes a hearing loss.

What causes hearing disorders?

The three most common causes of hearing loss in children are:

• Ear infections – The ear gets infected because fluid collects in it. This fluid prevents the sound waves from moving through the ear. Hearing loss that is caused by ear infections is usually temporary. However, when these infections occur over and over again, they could cause permanent hearing loss. If they happen often in young children, the children may not learn to talk well.

• Congenital causes – Congenital hearing loss is a condition that a child has from the time he was born. This type of hearing loss could run in the family. It could also be caused by any illness or infection that the child gets before birth or at the time of birth.

• Acquired causes – An acquired hearing loss appears after a child is born. It could be the result of a disease such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, or meningitis. It could be a result of ear infections. It could also be caused by a head injury or by very loud noises.

What are the signs of a hearing disorder?

You might worry that a child has a hearing loss if she:
     • Does not respond when her name is called.
     • Does not pay attention to someone who is speaking or to an activity that involves speech or sound.
     • Reacts very slowly or does not react at all to loud noises such as the doorbell, the ring of the telephone, etc.
     • Turns her ear or head toward the person speaking or to the source of noise (television, radio, etc.).
     • Turns up the volume on the television or radio and makes it louder than usual.
     • Often asks the speaker to repeat things.
     • Does not understand directions.
     • Gets confused when someone speaks to her or asks her to do something.
     • Often pulls or scratches her ear (this is a sign of ear infection).

If you notice that a child does these things very often, encourage the parents to talk to a doctor or other professional. Or your center might be able to offer speech and hearing screening. It might be good to test the child for a hearing disorder. Look at a hearing checklist to help you decide if the child has a hearing problem.

Some children who do the things in the list above have a hearing loss. But some of these things may also happen for other reasons. For example, some children do not pay attention when someone talks to them. They react slowly when someone speaks or when the telephone rings. They do not respond when their name is called. But they do not have a hearing loss. One reason for such behavior could be a disorder such as Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD). A second reason could be discipline issues. For example, a child may ignore an adult who is talking to him because the adult does not always give him consistent messages or directions. So the child may be confused by what the adult means and simply ignores the adult. A child may also purposely ignore an adult because they are in a power struggle with each other. In other cases, a child may ignore an adult because the child is paying attention to something else.

You can do some simple things to check if a child has a hearing disorder. You could call the child’s name when she is not looking at you. Does she respond? If you think she is ignoring you on purpose, you could try something else. You could make a sound or noise that is related to something the child likes. This might be making animal noises or using a toy that makes a special noise. Try some louder and softer noises. Try high and low noises. If the child seems to hear when you do that, she probably does not have a hearing loss. If the child does not respond, encourage the parents to take her to a specialist for a complete checkup.

Visit this website for more information on hearing and hearing disorders.

Visit this website for tips on ways to protect children’s ears.

Some children develop hearing problems because the adults around them do not know what kind of noises may harm a child's ears. Parents and childcare providers can prevent most hearing problems in children that are caused by loud noises. Here are a few simple tips to protect children’s hearing:

     • Keep children away from loud noises. If a noise is very loud or if children are too close to a loud noise, try to stop the
       noise or move them away from it.
     • One single loud noise like that of a firecracker can damage hearing right away. Try to keep children at a distance from
     • Hearing also can be damaged by loud noises that last for a long time. That kind of noise comes from motorcycles,
       chainsaws, or very loud music. In this case, their hearing is damaged slowly. Again, keep children away from those
     • Protect children’s ears with earplugs or earmuffs whenever there are loud noises around them and you cannot move
       them away from the noise. Be ready with earplugs or earmuffs if you know loud noises will be a problem.

Go to:   • Speech and language disorders

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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