Did you know that about 2 to 3 out of 1000 children born in the United States have some detectable level of hearing loss? As Kid’s ENT month continues, we wanted to break down how hearing loss can impact a child’s speech. This is commonly overlooked by new parents coming into our office, who are unaware that the two body systems coordinate with one another. We recommend that any child coming into our offices for speech therapy also be seen by an audiologist or ENT for a hearing screening. It is so vital to get the entire picture of what is happening in a child’s body so they can receive the best care they need. Keep reading to gain a better understanding of the way hearing loss can affect our efforts in speech therapy.
Why does hearing impact your speech?
We all have a general idea of how hearing works right? A sound travels to your ear, the systems within the ear then send a signal to the brain, and the brain that processes that sound. But hearing is so much more than just “hearing” a sound. Hearing is how you are able to notice errors in speech and make proper alterations or adjustments as needed. In a normal hearing adult, a sound that seems off-target is picked up by the ears and delivered as an “error” to the brain. This process naturally more difficult for younger children based off of their development levels. When adding in hearing loss, it can be incredibly challenging for a child’s ears to determine a problem and make a correction.
As expected, there is a scale of the variety of hearing loss that can impact both children and adults. Once the hearing loss moves past the normal hearing range, it moves to mild, moderate, moderate-severe, severe, and all the way to profound. Children who experience more severe to profound hearing losses may reach an early plateau in their speech skill development. Furthermore, research shows that on average less than 20% of their words are intelligible to unfamiliar listeners. Children with hearing loss are more apt to experience language disorders due to the impact of the loss on their developing neurological systems.
The main reason proper speech execution and normal hearing levels correlate is because with below normal hearing loss, a child’s ability to learn the sounds of their language is impacted. It also prevents body parts called articulators from doing their job. The articulators of the body are the jaw, tongue, lips etc. They work to produce sounds correctly and rely on normal hearing to refine their speech production over time. The development of speech relies on our articulators to move and coordinate for proper speech sounds. This makes it a fundamental skill for infants and children to learn in order to monitor their speech, identify errors, and make corrections where necessary.
What does that look in a child?
Parents often ask our therapists,” what are some ways I can tell if my young child has hearing loss?”. Most infants and young children with hearing loss demonstrate disordered articulation and speech production abilities. Their entire speech production system can be affected. Examples of this are coordinating breathing to saying sounds and producing continuous sounds at the level of connected speech.
A great way to watch out for signs of this is by following our Developmental Milestones Checklist we have created (available on our website). These milestones follow along a child in their development, if you notice your child is off path, it may be time for a speech or hearing evaluation. Infants and children with hearing loss have delayed speech development milestones, as much by 6 or more when compared to a child with normal hearing.
Children with normal hearing begin babbling around 5-6 months of age and talking around 12 months of age. Speech production skills will continue to be refined into the school-aged years and beyond. However, children with hearing loss may not babble until at least 12 months of age or more. As a result of producing fewer instances of babbling than their normal hearing peers, they develop a limited range of consonants. They rely on the easier to articulate consonants such as vowels and sounds like “p,” “b” and “m”.