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Effects of Various Types of Hearing Loss

Different types of hearing loss affect deaf and hard of hearing children's ability to hear in different ways.

Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss affects the loudness of the sounds a child hears. The inner ear is intact and ready to accept sounds, but the outer or middle ear is blocked. As a result, sounds may be too soft for children with a conductive hearing loss to hear clearly. Once sound reaches the inner ear it is usually clear and undistorted.

  • The problem can usually be reduced or eliminated through medical treatment.
  • The problem may or may not be temporary, depending on the nature of the blockage.
  • If the hearing loss lasts a short time, the child's language learning should not be affected. If the blockage is chronic or happens repeatedly, it may affect the child's speech and language development and educational performance.
  • If the loss is due to a long-term problem, and cannot be resolved medically, the child may need habilitation and/or a hearing aid so the child does not lose valuable language development and education time.
  • Special Education programming is often not necessary for children with conductive hearing loss.
  • Routine monitoring of hearing is recommended for children who have repeated conductive or middle ear problems.

Be aware that children misbehave in the classroom and appear to not pay attention may have fluctuating conductive hearing loss.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss affects both the loudness of the sounds a child hears, and the clarity of those sounds. With sensorineural hearing loss, some or all of the hair cells or nerves in the inner ear are damaged. This means the inner ear is not able to identify some of the different pitches of sounds that come into the ear. This will cause varying degrees and configurations of hearing loss.

  • The loss is permanent and cannot be surgically repaired.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing children need early identification and intervention to learn language during the critical early years.
  • Each deaf or hard of hearing child has unique language learning and communication needs. Families choose various language development and educational approaches to address these needs.
  • Hearing aids can benefit many children with sensorineural loss in different ways. Some children may benefit from a hearing aid to process spoken English or components of spoken English while other children may use a hearing aid only for more basic purposes such as alerting to sounds.

Mixed Hearing Loss
Mixed hearing losses cause problems with both loudness and sound distortion. Since mixed losses combine the characteristics of conductive and sensorineural loss, the severity of each type of loss will affect the severity of the impact.

  • If the conductive loss is greater, with very little damage to the nerves of the inner ear, the child will hear sounds softly, but the sounds will not be distorted.
  • If the sensorineural loss is greater, sounds will be both soft and distorted.
  • Since conductive losses tend to fluctuate, depending on the cause of the loss, mixed losses may also fluctuate and the child's response behavior could vary from day to day.

Other Considerations

  • How old the child is when the hearing loss happens affects a child's speech and language development. A child who became deaf before acquiring language and a child who became deaf after exposure to and acquisition of language will each present different circumstances in terms of language use and development.
  • How quickly a child's hearing loss is diagnosed and how expediently the child is provided access to a clear language system will have a significant impact on the child's language development. It should be noted that Deaf children from Deaf families who have access to American Sign Language (ASL) from birth have been shown to acquire ASL at the same rate that hearing children develop spoken language.
  • There are many degrees, types, and patterns of hearing loss. There is no one description or profile of a deaf or hard of hearing that fits all children.
  • Even if two children have the same degree, type and pattern of hearing loss, it does not mean they hear and understand the same thing or benefit from a hearing aid in the same way. Each child's hearing and speaking capabilities are unique.
  • Some causes of deafness (i.e.: rubella, cytomeglovirus, meningitis, etc...) have other associated conditions that may impact on a child's learning characteristics.
  • Many deaf children have some residual (remaining) hearing.

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