New research shows big impact for deaf toddlers from radio aids

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Ian Noon, (aged 3 years) Head of Policy and Research

One of my earliest, most vivid memories is playing in the lounge while listening to my Mum, who was in the kitchen talking about the dinner she was making/burning. She was only able to do this because she was wearing a microphone and the sound of her speech was coming through clearly and direct to my radio aid, cutting out all background noise.

I used to insist that she wear the microphone all the time – in the car, outdoors, everywhere – and would throw petulant tantrums when she turned it off, even just for a second.

I’ve no doubt that because of all this, I was able to develop good language and communication skills and get a good head start once I arrived at primary school.

So when I joined the National Deaf Children’s Society, many years later, I was amazed to find out that my experience was relatively unusual. A survey by the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education (CRIDE) in 2016 found that 46% of local authorities do not make radio aids available to pre-school deaf children.

This is why I’m really excited by the latest research being published by the National Deaf Children’s Society today. It shows that radio aid technology can have a big impact on hearing and communication for deaf children. In particular, it finds that being able to hear their parents’ voice clearly and directly by using radio aids promotes markedly better parent-child communication.

To me, the research confirms something that many people have known for years. It’s pretty well established by now that the early years are critical in developing language and communication skills, and that the interaction between parents and children is an essential part of this. But we also know that everyday situations like being in a buggy or car can be a noisy minefield for deaf children, making it impossible for them to hear their parents in those critical early years.

Radio aids aren’t for everyone and we still need to look at the individual needs of each deaf child. But it is important that parents have the information they need to make informed choices about whether / when they’d like to try a radio aid for their child. But for these kind of informed choices to mean anything, the other 54% of local authorities need to take action to make sure that they can provide radio aids if parents feel it would benefit them.

Last year, we launched our Right from the Start campaign to make sure that every deaf child got the right support from the earliest possible age. The research published today suggests that one way of meeting this goal for many will be to make sure that there is much wider access to radio aids in the early years. I hope that local authorities will take action to ensure that more deaf children get the chance to benefit from this, like I did.

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.