(Rockville, MD) The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is urging parents to focus on their children’s hearing this back-to-school season, concerned that it may get overlooked as households across the country busily prepare for the new school year.
Roughly 15 percent of children ages 6–19 years of age have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even a so-called “mild” hearing loss can impact a child’s ability to learn and lead to negative social and behavioral effects if it’s not addressed.
Hearing screenings are available in some schools, but the requirements for (and frequency of) them vary by state. Consequently, some children can go years without having a hearing screening. The risks involved are heightened by the fact that hearing loss can be difficult to spot, especially for younger children who do not yet have the language to express what they are experiencing to their parents/caregivers.
Also, untreated summer ear problems—swimmer’s ear and other ear infections—can carry over into the school year, cause temporary hearing loss, and hinder learning.
In light of concerns like these, ASHA is offering families the following tips for the new school year:
- Pay attention to signs of hearing loss. These signs are not always obvious and may not be communicated in a way that would raise a red flag for adults. A child might ask the same question repeatedly or make frequent requests for you to repeat yourself, which can be mistaken for not paying attention. They may also turn up the television louder than usual or share that they hear some “bees buzzing” or “lions roaring” in their ears. If you observe these signs, ask your doctor to recommend an audiologist in your area (you can also find a searchable database of these professionals at asha.org/profind).
- Buy safer products, especially earbuds and headphones. With laptops increasingly used as part of instruction, many schools now require earbuds or headphones for students. Look for products that have volume limiters (a maximum of 75 decibels is best). Talk to your child about keeping the volume to half level. Noise-cancelling products can also help children resist the urge to crank up the volume.
- Stress the importance of hearing protection—and model safe listening habits. Talk with your children about the importance of protecting their hearing while using personal audio devices—and why taking listening breaks is important. Model healthy and safe behaviors. Limit your own volume and take breaks yourself. If you have a family technology plan/agreement, consider adding an item on listening safely.
For children who are deaf and hard of hearing, families can additionally do the following:
- Make sure hearing aids or any other assistive technologies are working properly. If you have concerns about how your child’s hearing technology is working, if their ear mold is still the correct size, or if your child’s hearing has changed, be sure to schedule a visit with your child’s audiologist.
- Check in on your child’s 504 plan or Individualized Education Program (IEP). Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed some 504 plan or IEP meetings. Does your child have any new classroom accommodation needs? Making sure your child’s plan is still up to date is imperative for their school success.
- Encourage your child to self-advocate—and practice doing so. Practice ways the child can ask a teacher or other staff member to repeat themselves or clarify what was said if that’s needed. Provide the exact vocabulary for a request for help. If your child isn’t comfortable asking, you may be able to work with the teacher to develop a nonverbal signal that your child can use if they need some extra help.
For more information on hearing loss in children, visit www.asha.org/public.
About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 223,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders.