With an estimated 2 to 3 out of every 1000 children born with hearing loss in the United States, hearing impairments in our schools are becoming an increasingly common occurrence with possibly lifelong complications. Poor academic achievement, trouble in developing social skills due to self-isolation and stigma, and delayed language acquisition have all been identified as possible risks for children with hearing loss in educational settings. However, a new Australian study has found that barriers may start well before they even enter the classroom, linking preventable hearing loss to poor attendance of aboriginal children during their first years of primary school. Though this pioneering research focuses on Northern Territory aboriginal populations of Australia, the rationale behind why some children with hearing loss may prefer to stay home instead of attending school transcend borders, highlights the obstacles that our youngest patients may face.
Hearing loss presents many unique challenges for adolescents in the early stages of their development with possibly lifelong ramifications. Normal interactions require significantly more amounts of effort and attention than their hearing healthy peers, which can create a damaging mental and social barrier between children with hearing loss and their classmates. Behavioral problems such as externalized aggression or hyperactivity have also been observed, hindering a child’s ability to learn and socialize. This difficulty in socializing results in increased rates of self-isolation, depression, and anxiety, further affecting them for the foreseeable future.
While social development can suffer greatly, academic achievement is another aspect of adolescence that can be affected by hearing loss. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) had found that children with mild to moderate hearing loss, achieve one to four grade levels lower, on average, than their peers with healthy hearing, unless appropriate management occurs.
Led by Dr. Jiunn-Yih Su with the Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research, and the Charles Darwin University, their 2019 study concluded that aboriginal children with hearing loss had attended Year 1 of primary school and preschool at significantly lower rates than their hearing healthy peers, highlighting the importance of early identification and intervention. “The silent way in which hearing impairment (HI) presents in young Aboriginal students can make it difficult to detect, especially for teachers who may be unfamiliar with the children,” explained Dr. Su, recommending “in this population, where the prevalence of otitis media and accompanying HI remains extremely high, the early detection and management of hearing loss on entry into primary school should be included in the measures to improve school attendance.”
With research highlighting the struggles, stigma, and exhaustion that some children face with hearing loss, the correlation between hearing loss and poor attendance is glaringly obvious. Early detection and intervention, as Dr. Su had concluded, are crucial steps to ensuring children with hearing loss, despite their location in the world, can succeed in academic settings. If your child is experiencing symptoms of hearing loss in school, seek out the medical advice of a hearing health professional for possible treatment options and tips to help ease their educational journey.