Impact of hearing loss on brain development
Babies’ brains develop rapidly in the first months and years of life, as they experience the world through all their senses. The baby’s brain must be exposed to meaningful sounds consistently in order for these auditory neural pathways in the brain to develop. If a baby does not hear sounds well, or is only exposed to just a little bit of sound or speech during his/her early years of life, a permanent, reassignment of the child’s auditory brain cells occurs.
However, babies with hearing loss that is identified in the first weeks of life and who begin hearing optimally through amplification by 2-3 months (no later than 6 months) have a good chance of being able to develop the neural connections in their auditory brain pathways that are necessary to lay the foundation for spoken language development. This is especially true if they are provided with enhanced listening experiences.
All areas of development
To develop spoken language, children must be able to hear speech clearly and also to hear themselves mimic the sounds. But not only language development is dependent on a child’s ability to hear. Their listening skills also influence a broader range of development, such as their ability to interact socially and to build friendships, as well as to develop the cognitive skills needed for reading and writing.
The most important time for a child to learn language is in the first 3 years of life. In fact, children begin learning speech and language in the first 6 months of life. Research suggests that children with hearing loss who get help early develop better language skills than those who don’t. Early intervention is important for helping children with hearing loss reach their full potential in all areas of development and learning, particularly language and communication. Spoken or signed language is the basis for communication and literacy. These are key areas for a child’s interaction with their family and the wider community.
Early intervention can come in many forms, including fitting a child with hearing aids as is the case in the video, or a cochlear implant; providing parents, with support and information; and providing education programs and training to assist each child with language development.
In the classroom
The cochlear implant has changed the ways that children with significant hearing loss are educated. Although impressive in their accomplishments and challenges they have overcome in life already, these children still require support when entering a classroom environment to ensure their success. From the perspective of their functional communication, children with
cochlear implants should be supported by educators with similar supports provided to children with moderate or severe levels of hearing loss. This support includes the introduction of additional technologies and educators who are trained in working with hearing impaired children.
Talk, talk, talk...
Keep in mind that hearing children in the pre-verbal stage get feedback from an adult when they look at things, like a running commentary. It is important to have a joint focus, letting the child explore and control their environment, but you can also facilitate language development by sitting with the child and talking about what they are doing. As an adult working with a hearing impaired child, try and respond as often as possible, and try to follow the child’s focus (as you would with a hearing baby or young child). Keep bringing the child’s attention to sounds that you can hear.
Simple tips to make the child’s life easier
Once the operation is over for the child, and the cochlear implant is working, there will be several years work by all those involved with the child to facilitate listening, speech, and language development.
Important things to remember when communicating with a child with an implant in the learning environment or home:
- face the child when communicating
- talk clearly so they can see your lip patterns
- and when needed, use gesture, sign or visuals to help understanding
Where to from here?
Discovering that a child has a hearing loss can be a time of adjustment for the child and their family. It’s also a time for action, as research has shown there is a small window when early intervention can make a significant difference in the long term. As we all know, the early years are critical to a young child’s development, so beginning intervention as soon as possible after diagnosis of a hearing loss minimises the delay in a child’s development.