The impact of mild and moderate deafness in the classroom

Vicki Kirwin, Audiology Specialist, NDCS

Vicki Kirwin, Audiology Specialist, NDCS

New research carried out by The Ear Foundation, with funding from the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), is being published today. The research highlights issues that children with mild to moderate deafness encounter, gathered from the views of their parents and Teachers of the Deaf.

I previously blogged about mild deafness when NDCS ran a pilot weekend for families with children with mild deafness, who reported similar feelings to the new report findings. Common themes included lack of understanding of the impact of mild to moderate deafness on family and education and a belief that the terms “mild” and “moderate” are not helpful in describing the potential impact for a lot of children.

This blog provides a reminder of the impact of mild and moderate deafness and explores why this impact is so often overlooked.

Impact of mild deafness

  • A child can usually hear everything that is said to them in a quiet room, but not if there is lots of noise present or they are far away from the speaker.
  • A child would not be able to follow a whispered conversation.
  • Some children with mild deafness use hearing aids.
  • A child with glue ear will usually have mild deafness.
  • A child with mild deafness will miss 25% to 50% of the teacher’s voice in a classroom.
  • The teacher’s voice is typically heard at about 70dB at the front and 40 dB at the back of the class. A child with mild deafness (21-40 dB) will typically not hear anything of the teacher’s voice at the back of the class.

Impact of moderate deafness

  • Most children with moderate deafness use hearing aids.
  • Without their hearing aids, they could hear most of what someone says to them in a quiet room as long as they speak clearly, but could not follow a conversation in a large group, if there is lots of background noise or they are far away from the speaker.
  • A child with moderate loss will miss over 50% of the teacher’s voice in a classroom.

Why is the impact of mild and moderate deafness so often overlooked?
Adults can find it very difficult to understand the impact of mild and moderate deafness on children. This is because any child they meet with a mild and moderate deafness is likely to have clear speech and be able to answer questions asked directly of them. But classrooms are typically noisy and background noise can have a significant impact on speech understanding for a child with mild and moderate deafness. This is because the adult brain is much better at filtering out background noise than a child’s.

Also, the adult brain is very good at filling in the gaps of missed information – speech sounds or parts of words – that weren’t heard. Children with mild and moderate deafness are not able to do this – they lack the knowledge, vocabulary and context to be able to fill in the gaps. This means they miss out on a lot of the new vocabulary and concepts being taught every day at school.

Diagnosis
Newborn hearing screening does not usually identify mild hearing loss in very young babies because it is designed to pick up greater levels of deafness, and many children develop hearing loss during early childhood. It is important that parents and health professionals are vigilant about the child’s development and refer them to an audiologist at any stage if they are concerned about their hearing or speech development.

Parents’ views should be taken seriously. If they have concerns about a child’s hearing they should be referred for testing without delay.

Once a hearing loss is identified it’s vital a child is offered information, advice and possibly hearing aids or other intervention as soon as possible. It isn’t acceptable that they wait longer because their hearing loss is viewed as being more borderline or not as ‘significant’ as other children’s.

What can be done to help?
The research report calls for more support to parents and young people with mild and moderate deafness. It also calls for teachers to have greater awareness of the impact that mild and moderate deafness can have and for local authorities to ensure that services are sufficiently resourced to provide the necessary support.

NDCS’s website has more information about the resources available to families of children with mild or moderate deafness.

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