Communication skills development and hearing go hand in hand!

Posted: May 16 2022

Hearing influences many areas of speech and language development. Early detection and management of identified hearing loss can greatly minimize any potential impact on developing effective communication skills. Without adequate hearing, children may experience difficulties with the following skills:

Speech sounds (articulation): Children learn to speak by listening to spoken words. If a child is unable to hear sounds, this may influence how they learn to pronounce sounds. Many times, parents or caregivers assume that because a child reacts when their name is called or hears environmental noises (vacuum cleaners, water running, etc.), they must not have a hearing loss. As we can see in the image below, depending on the degree and range of hearing loss, some sounds may be heard while others may be muffled or misheard.

 

The “Speech Banana” represents speech sounds and where they fall with regards to frequency and pitch. Depending on the type and degree of hearing loss, multiple speech sounds may be affected.

Vocabulary development: Children learn new words by hearing them repeatedly in context. If a child is unable to hear words clearly, they will not be exposed to as many opportunities to use and understand a word. Because of this, their bank of vocabulary may be notably delayed when compared with other children their age. 

Sentence structure (grammar): Many grammatical markers in speech rely on high-frequency sounds. For example, adding an /s/ sound at the end of a word may pluralize it, (the horse vs the horses) or indicate ownership (“that is hers” vs “that is her”). Without hearing high-frequency sounds clearly, a child may not develop proper grammar understanding or use, which may lead to confusion and frustration. 

Social skills: One of the contributing factors in developing a balanced, healthy, and happy lifestyle is meaningful social connections. Much of that connection is developed through conversations and play skills. If a child is unable to adequately hear interactions with peers and adults, they may have a much more difficult time developing play skills and friendships. 

Academic skills: Although many school classrooms include a variety of instructional methods, including visual supports, much of the school day is spent listening to oral instructions. If a child is unable to hear the instructions, they will be at risk for negative academic outcomes and subsequent self-esteem impacts. 

Signs that a child may have a hearing loss include: 

  • Delayed speech and language milestones 
  • Reduced communication output (“he’s not much of a talker”) 
  • Speech sounds produced by the child are unclear or the voice may not sound as we would expect,
         with airflow directing more from the nose than the mouth 
  • Not consistently following directions 
  • Frequently asking for repetition of spoken language (“Huh? What did you say?”)
  • Turning the volume higher than expected on electronic devices 

If a child is displaying any or all of the above signs, an assessment by an audiologist may be warranted. 

Given that hearing loss can be permanent or temporary (this may occur with ear infections), continued monitoring of hearing is an important part of supporting effective communication skills development! 

 

Written by: Jennifer, Speech Language Pathologist, B.A., B.Ed, M.Sc. – SLP. 

References:

http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Effects-of-Hearing-Loss-on-Development/

https://ohns.ucsf.edu/audiology/education/peds 

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