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Impact of hearing loss on development of children

A hearing impairment is a decrease in one's ability to hear (i.e. perceive auditory information). Deafness is the second most common disability and is largely invisible. Approximately 3 in every 1,000 children born have a hearing loss. The majority are deaf children born to hearing parents.

While some cases of hearing loss are reversible with medical treatment, many are permanent. Whether temporary or permanent, how severely hearing is compromised is not uniform. In some cases the hearing loss is only mild or moderate, and individuals may not even be aware they are affected. In other cases the degree of deafness is profound and, although vibrations will be sensed, even the sound of a nearby jet engine will not be heard.

Parents, teachers and the public need to have a thorough understanding of the challenges faced by these hearing impaired children in order to handle them properly. The general reaction of the public when they come across such children is that of ridicule, little understanding the trauma faced by such children. Children may have different levels of hearing loss.

 Classification of hearing impairment:

They may be classified as a) Mild hearing loss, where the child suffers from a hearing loss between 15 - 40 dbHL.These children may have difficulty in following speech in noisy situations. b) Moderate hearing loss ( 41 - 70 dbHL). These children have difficulty in following speech without a hearing aid. Also, they have great difficulty in noisy situations. C) Severe hearing loss (71-95 dbHl). These children have difficulty in following speech even with a hearing aid. D) Profound hearing loss (>96 dbHL) Hearing aids will be of little to no help. When the hearing loss occurs at a young age, interference with the acquisition of spoken language and social development may occur. Hearing aids and cochlear implants may alleviate some of the problems caused by hearing impairment, but are often insufficient.

Pre-lingual hearing impairment exists when the impairment is congenital or otherwise acquired before the individual has acquired speech and language, thus rendering the disadvantages more difficult to treat because the child is unable to access audible /spoken communication from the outset. It is important to note that those children born into a deaf family using sign language have no delay in language development and communication. Most pre-lingual hearing impairment is due to an acquired condition, usually either disease or trauma; therefore, families commonly have no prior knowledge of deafness. Post-lingual hearing impairment is, where hearing loss is adventitious after the acquisition of speech and language, usually after the age of six. It may develop due to disease, trauma, or as a side-effect of a medicine. Typically, hearing loss is gradual, and often detected by family and friends of the people so affected long before the patients themselves will acknowledge the disability.

Hearing impairment has an impact on the child's social life, psychology, and on learning capabilities.

 Social impact in the pre-lingually hearing impaired

In children, hearing loss can lead to social isolation for several reasons. First, the child experiences delayed social development that is in large part tied to delayed language acquisition. It is also directly tied to their inability to pick up auditory social cues. This can result in the deaf child becoming generally irritable. A child who uses sign language, does not generally experience this isolation, particularly if he attends a school for the deaf, but may conversely experience isolation from his parents if they do not know sign language. A child who is exclusively or predominantly oral (using speech for communication) can experience social isolation from his or her hearing peers, particularly if no one takes the time to explicitly teach the child social skills that other children acquire independently by virtue of having normal hearing. Finally, a child who has a severe impairment and uses some sign language may be rejected by his or her deaf peers, because of an understandable hesitation in abandoning the use of existent verbal and speech-reading skills.

Social impact in the post-lingually hearing impaired

Those who lose their hearing later in life, such as in late adolescence or adulthood, face their own challenges. For example, they must adjust to living with the adaptations that make it possible for them to live independently. They may have to adapt to using hearing aids or a cochlear implant, develop speech-reading skills, and/or learn sign language. Loneliness and depression can arise as a result of isolation (from the inability to communicate with friends and loved ones) and difficulty in accepting their disability. The challenge is made greater by the need for those around them to adapt to the person's hearing loss. Children who suffer from untreated hearing loss often find it extremely difficult to participate in social activities, even within their own family. Some common social problems for children with untreated hearing loss include: isolation and withdrawal, inattentiveness, bluffing, distraction/lack of concentration.

Psychological consequences

It is commonly known that untreated hearing loss may have serious negative psychological effects. Some are more common than others -- here are some of them: shame, guilt and anger, embarrassment, poor concentration, sadness or depression, worry and frustration, anxiety and suspiciousness, self-criticism and low self-esteem/self-confidence.

Physical consequences

Untreated hearing loss often results in certain physical problems such as tiredness or exhaustion, headache, vertigo, tense muscles, stress, problems with sports, eating and/or sleeping disorders and stomach disorders.

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