When it comes to childhood language development, hearing loss can have a serious effect. As children are acquiring language skills, they tend to rely on hearing to put together meanings, sounds, and words. Specialists know that infants and children with hearing impairment tend to have a harder time acquiring these language skills, but a recent study provides more information about comparative differences between types of hearing impairment. In particular, they found a surprising fact about the relationship between unilateral hearing loss and bilateral hearing loss. Let’s take a look at these different types of hearing loss, what they mean for language acquisition, and signs that youth hearing loss might be an issue.
Unilateral and Bilateral Hearing Loss
What is the difference between these two types of hearing loss? There are many different ways to categorize types of hearing ability, and the designations of unilateral and bilateral hearing loss is one important distinction. Unilateral hearing loss means that a person only has hearing loss in one ear, while bilateral hearing loss refers to hearing loss in both ears. A similar distinction differentiates symmetrical and asymmetrical hearing loss. Symmetrical hearing loss means that a person has exactly the same hearing ability profile on an audiogram in the two ears, while asymmetrical hearing loss designates a difference between the ears. What appears to be unilateral hearing loss is actually asymmetrical hearing loss in many cases. Some people believe that they have one “bad ear” when they actually have some hearing loss in both ears, but that hearing loss is asymmetrical.
Effects on Childhood Language Acquisition
What happens when a child has truly unilateral hearing loss? Researchers devoted a recent study to language acquisition skills between those children who have unilateral and bilateral hearing loss, with some surprising results. They already knew that children with bilateral hearing impairment had greater trouble with language acquisition than children who had no hearing impairment at all. The surprise came from a new finding about children who had unilateral hearing loss. These children also had trouble with language acquisition when compared with children who had no hearing loss. However, the degrees of hearing loss mattered quite a lot. Children with severe-to-profound unilateral hearing loss had worse outcomes in language skills than children with mild-to-moderate bilateral hearing loss. Specifically, they had worse outcomes on sound discrimination, sound identification and preverbal vocalization, as well as their early prelingual auditory development. This finding flew in the face of beliefs about the relationship between unilateral and bilateral hearing loss, so researchers were curious to learn more.
Identifying Childhood Hearing Loss
If you are concerned about hearing impairment in your child, there are many things you can do to observe and remain attentive to the process of hearing and language development. In infancy through early childhood, awareness of sound can be signaled in other parts of the body. When a sound occurs in the room or the home, shifting sight and bodily orientation toward that sound is a good sign of hearing ability. On the other hand, when a child does not move to look in the direction of a loud sound, that can be a sign of hearing impairment. In addition, verbalization can begin in early childhood. This verbalization does not necessarily happen through spoken words or phrases. Syllables and sounds can begin any time in the first two years of life, and that verbalization is a good sign of the earliest stages of language acquisition. If these steps are not evident in the first two years of life, then it might be time for a childhood hearing test. This test can be performed by a pediatric audiologist or early childhood speech pathologist. These tests are simple and totally painless for your child, and getting a test is a good way to put your mind at ease. If you do find that childhood hearing impairment is an issue, the possible treatments are advancing rapidly, and you should have no cause for worry at all. The earlier your child is tested, the sooner you can begin an intervention and set your child up for successful language acquisition down the road, so don’t ignore any of the possible signs you see.