Deafness (also known as a hearing loss) can be both a permanent or temporary condition, and can be caused by a range of factors.
Some children might have normal hearing at birth but go on to experience temporary deafness (perhaps due to ‘glue ear’, where congestion behind the ear drum prevents the drum from moving effectively). More unusually, a small number of children might experience a progressive hearing loss, which gets worse over time.
The School Nursing service will send you a health questionnaire when your child starts school. They will also test your child’s hearing so let them know of any concerns you have or if your child is being seen by Audiology.
You’ll be notified of your child’s hearing screening result. Sometimes, there’s an unclear result that will require follow up. This doesn’t automatically mean that your child has a hearing loss. There might have been background noise at the time of testing or your child might have had a cold. If so, their hearing screen will be repeated in four to six weeks and you’ll be notified of the result.
Hearing is essential for developing spoken language skills. When a hearing impairment is identified, a clinical scientist from the audiology team will work with you to find the best solution to maximise access to sound for your child. This will include considering hearing aid options. Depending on the type of the deafness identified, they might also make onward referrals to the Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant, Paediatrician, Speech and Language Therapist and the Berkshire Sensory Consortium (Teachers of the Deaf).
If your child has a hearing loss, you might notice that their responses to sounds in the environment changes. You might notice that when your child is awake and alert, they’re persistently not responding to sounds in the environment. Perhaps they’re unaware of sounds such as a knock on the door, the phone ringing or their name being called.
Be aware that children don’t always turn to explore what a sound is. They may indicate they have heard a sound by becoming still, smiling or crying. Babies and young toddlers often becoming quite absorbed in one activity, so try observing them in different situations.
You might also notice:
If you notice that your child’s hearing is fluctuating, for example perhaps being worse when they have a cold, then do what you can to manage background noise when speaking together or reading stories. For example, turn the TV or radio off.
Using gestures and photos where appropriate (eg photos of people/places you’re talking about) can be helpful in supporting communication at a time when your child’s hearing status is unclear and/or they’re having difficulty responding to sounds.
All babies and toddlers benefit hugely from being face to face and having adults communicating with them at their eye level. This is especially important for any babies or children suspected of having a hearing loss.
Discuss any concerns you have with your Health Visitor.
The 9 month and 2 year reviews provide opportunities to meet with a member of the Health Visiting Team to discuss a range of developmental areas. However, you don’t have to wait for these opportunities. If you have concerns about your child’s hearing at other times, you can contact your Health Visitor or GP to ask them to refer your child for a hearing assessment.
They might encourage you to make some further observations in different listening situations and/or refer your child to Hearing and Balance for a hearing assessment.
Glue ear (1)
Hearing aids for children
Hearing aids: Information for families
Newborn hearing screening
Communicating with a deaf child