So the doctor says your child has a small hearing loss. No big deal, right? They hear you when you call their name. They always come running to the kitchen when you yell out “dessert!”
As I’ve been learning recently, even small hearing losses can have a BIG impact on learning and brain development. Each typically developing child is born with the capability to hear every sound in every human language. As we grow older we lose that capability. A child that cannot hear properly (due to ear infections, brain differences, etc.) loses the ability to even hear sounds in their native language. When these neurological connections die off, they may never return. Even if their hearing gets better later (if the ear infections go away or if they later get a hearing aid), these neurological connections will not automatically reform. Brain development is at stake.
For example, I will never be able to sound like a native Chinese speaker. Never. I was not exposed to that language at a young age, and I have no gifts in language. I literally cannot hear the slight differences in tones and sounds. Through much training, I might learn to hear some of the sound differences, but I doubt I could ever learn them all.
I found a journal article with sound files here. Each of these sound files demonstrates a difference in hearing. The purpose of sharing this article is to emphasize the importance of helping children hear all the time. It cannot wait until next year or next month. Hearing loss in the classroom has a big impact.
The first file demonstrates the difference that a 20 dB hearing loss can make. Part way through the sentence, there will be a sudden volume drop of 20 dB. This is considered a mild loss.
The second file demonstrates a high frequency hearing loss. A high frequency loss affects one’s ability to make sense of language. Although you may understand some of the words the reader is speaking, if would take much effort to understand all of them because high frequency sounds usually carry the meaning of words.
Now, pretend you are in the middle of a busy classroom. There are 5 small reading groups going on at the same time. There are 30 children scattered around the room. This is what a child with typical hearing would hear.
Finally, let’s pretend that you are in this classroom: there is a lot of background noise, reverberation, and you have a mild hearing loss. This is what you would hear. Mild hearing loss. Sounds like no big deal, right? Can you imagine learning anything if that is what you heard all day? How exhausting it must be.