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Sometimes we take our 5 senses for granted until they are taken away from us. Just like our hearing. We forget that not everybody gets to enjoy the sounds of music, the birds singing in the trees, the ocean crashing on the rocks or our parents talking.
Any kind of early hearing loss can be a serious problem. It can undermine the foundation of language development, which experts believe is built during the early months and years of life.
I’m not talking about selective hearing here either.
Hearing impairment can happen at birth, known as ‘congenital’ or it can start after birth, known as ‘acquired’. It might mean some challenges to come. With early intervention combined with modern technology, children with a hearing impairment can lead healthy and happy lives and reach their full potential.
The better of the two types is “conductive” hearing impairment is when sounds from outside your child’s ear have trouble getting to or going through the different parts inside the ear. Conductive hearing impairment is usually caused by middle ear infections, and is usually temporary.
But with “sensorineural” hearing impairment, the nerves that are in charge of receiving sound and sorting out what it means don’t work properly. It may be mild, moderate, severe or profound. Sensorineural hearing impairment usually lasts for life and can actually worsen over time.
Some children have only conductive hearing impairment whilst others have sensorineural hearing impairment as well. This is called a mixed hearing loss.
At least in Australia, we have universal newborn hearing screening as an essential part of diagnosing hearing impairment in children.
During screening, special equipment plays specific sounds into your baby’s ears and records the responses from your baby. The screening technology might be different in different parts of Australia.
In most places, your baby will be screened in hospital, before you take your baby home. It is not compulsory and your consent is required but if you ever had any concerns, it would be considered essential. Early diagnosis of hearing impairment means your child can get early intervention and support. This can make a big difference to their language development.
A child can build communication and language skills through spoken language, sign language or a combination of sign and spoken language to talk.
Even with the best technology, learning to communicate with spoken language for children with severe or profound loss is really hard work, takes many years and doesn’t always succeed. The most important thing for your child’s development, and for your relationship with your child, is being able to communicate. Delaying this while waiting for your child to become a good hearer and speaker is a risk. It is also a good idea for the entire family to learn sign language to engage better with their deaf sibling or child.
Alternatively you may choose to have implants like a cochlear implant or a hearing aid. The more severe cases, the less these aids will benefit.
It can be hard to know what to do when you first find out your child has a hearing impairment. Through early intervention services, you can work with health professionals who’ll help you learn how to spend time with your child in ways that support him or her in their development.
More information: http://www.deafau.org.au/ and http://www.ridbc.org.au/