Why are more children experiencing hearing loss?
When children are constantly plugged in they are overloading their auditory system, which loses its protective mechanism with sustained exposure to loud sound levels (over 85dB). A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, (J. Shargorodsky 2010 concluded that the prevalence of hearing loss among adolescents aged 12 - 19 was greater in 2005-2006 compared with 1998-2004). Given that Generation Z has had lifetime exposure to MP3 players, iPods, video games, mobile phones, and live on an increasingly noisy planet, these findings come as no surprise.
How does this hearing loss affect children/adolescents in the classroom?
When children experience even a mild hearing loss, it makes it difficult to:
• Listen to their teacher – especially in situations like the classroom when there is a lot of background noise
• Follow directions - particularly when they are given instructions with multiple steps which is often the case during a lesson
In addition to hearing loss, Auditory Processing problems make it difficult for the brain to understand what it does hear, further compounding problems with learning, attention and communication.
Five Suggestions to Help Prevent Teen Hearing Loss
1. Limit headphone use to durations of no longer than 30 minutes to one hour at a time.
2. Set the volume limit on your child’s iPod to about 80% of max volume. If you can hear it from the other side of the room it is too loud, and will be damaging your child’s hearing!
3. Avoid use of ear buds style headphones, which are inserted in the ear canal and replace with headphones that cover the ears.
4. Use ear plugs in noisy environments such as rock concerts or when playing in a band - foam or wax plugs inserted properly can reduce volume up to 29DB.
5. Show them the study and ask them if they want to wear hearing aids to their school ball!
What treatments are available for children with hearing loss?
There are two main types of hearing loss:
Conductive Hearing Loss:
This is caused by a disruption to the passage of sound waves via air conduction through the outer, middle and inner ear to the cochlea and the brain. The cochlea and auditory nerve are normal and hearing via the bone conduction pathway to the cochlea and brain is normal. Mild conductive hearing loss is often caused by accumulation of wax, fluid or glue and hearing can fluctuate depending on ear health.
Hearing aids will be usually required to compensate for persistent hearing loss, especially when it is moderate or severe, or when it occurs in the speech frequencies. In some mild cases an FM system or similar may be recommended by an audiologist to be used in the classroom to assist with hearing the teachers’ voices over background noise. However while this improves the child’s listening environment, it does little to improve their processing skills and cannot be used when the child goes to intermediate or college.
A very mild conductive hearing loss can sometimes be reversed however with a return to good health, insertion of grommets and removal of wax. Auditory Retraining Therapy may also improve air conduction hearing by stimulating the auditory system at specific frequencies where processing is poor to wake it up.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss:
This occurs where there is damage to the auditory nerve, so neither air nor bone conduction is normal. Once the auditory nerve is damaged, a persons hearing cannot be restored.
How can Auditory Processing Disorder affect Hearing Loss?
Good Auditory Processing is also required for understanding of spoken language. Poor Auditory Processing can have the same effect on learning as a mild conductive hearing loss.
An Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) means a person has normal hearing but poor processing.
A nationwide call- back survey in the USA designed to identify adults living with untreated hearing loss were surprised to receive a large number of calls from children and teenagers struggling to hear well at school. When tested most of these children had normal hearing but poor auditory processing. In particular they had great difficulty with the skill of Auditory Figure Ground, the ability to hear a speaker over the background of speech babble.
They discovered that although their hearing was normal, a low performance in the auditory figure ground skill had the same effect on children’s learning as a mild hearing loss.
Auditory Processing includes many different skills such as:
• Auditory Discrimination (telling the difference between similar sounds)
• Phonological Segmentation (the ability to break a word apart into its different sounds)
• Auditory Closure (filling in the gaps when some sound information is missing)
• Auditory Memory
APD often occurs when a child has had a history or ear infections or a head injury in early childhood. It may also be part of a neuro developmental delay as described above by Dr Pauc or be inherited from a parent with poor processing. This occurs when the child’s’ auditory centre in the brain has not matured in an age appropriate way and they cannot perform the types of skills described above. This makes it far harder for them to understand spoken language and process it accurately, especially when there is background noise or more than one person speaking at the same time.
What help is available for an Auditory Processing Disorder?
Poor auditory processing can be improved with targeted Auditory Retraining Therapy. This therapy is based on the pioneering work of Dr Alfred Tomatis - a French ear, nose and throat specialist. Dr Tomatis discovered that we cannot say sounds which we cannot hear. He also identified the important distinction between hearing and listening.
Hearing is the perception of sound. Listening is what we do with what we hear.
Dr Tomatis discovered that a person can have normal hearing but very poor auditory processing. He initially developed this work for children with learning difficulties by treating nonverbal children on the autistic spectrum. Using mostly Mozart music he invented an “electronic ear” which inserted missing frequencies into the child’s auditory perception. This work was then extended and applied to many different types of learning disabilities including ADHD, ADD, Asperger’s and Dyslexia, all of which have poor auditory processing as one of their underlying causes.
Want to learn more about Auditory Retraining Therapy?
We offer Auditory Retraining Therapy at the Developmental Learning Centre. To find out more, call 0800 543 399 or Request a free call back from one of our experienced team to understand how your child could benefit from our natural and holistic therapies.