Hearing loss can make learning difficult for kids



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Posted on July 31, 2010 at 1:07 PM

When Sara Hopper listens to her father read the story she wrote herself she sits with her right ear to his side. Her other ear hears no sound at all.

"It's kind of something that nobody really realizes," she said.

And since she never complained, her parents didn't realize it either, until Sara struggled with listening in kindergarten.

"We went in, got her checked for ear infection, there was nothing. It was just kind of a nagging feeling," said Sara's dad, Devon.

A hearing screening at Seattle Children's Hospital confirmed his fear. Doctors don't know why, but Sara's left ear became worse and worse until she could no longer hear.

"We acquire speech and language, and our knowledge of the world by listening to the people around us and having the people around us talk to us," Dr. Susan Norton.

Dr. Norton is Chief of Pediatric Audiology at Seattle Children's. She says families need to know hearing loss in one ear causes learning problems, even if they've been told otherwise.

"There's a lot of old wives tales out there, even among professionals," she said.

A new study has found children with one-sided hearing loss scored worse than their brothers or sisters in speech and language comprehension skills.

Sara's parents say that hasn't been a problem for her, thanks in part to intervention from her teacher.

"She would position her up at the front of the class and then over to the left hand side, so her right ear was towards her," said Devon.

If that won't work for a child, Dr. Norton says a hearing aid, or another device might help.

"We may recommend use of an FM system, where the teacher wears a microphone, and the student wears a receiver," she said.

It's all designed to keep kids like Sara on track with learning.

Experts say hearing loss in one ear can be genetic or it can be caused by head trauma or infections such as meningitis.

Thanks to newborn hearing screens in Washington state, hearing problems are often caught before babies ever come home from the hospital.

More information

Seattle Children's Hospital audiology