The Importance of Early Intervention in Children
Hearing, is vital for any child to grow and develop speech, language, communication skills, and establish good learning. The earlier a hearing loss occurs in a child’s life, the more profound the affect can have on that child’s development; more so if the hearing loss is not identified early.
The earlier the hearing loss is identified and intervention begun, the more likely it is that delays in speech and language development will be diminished. One study found that children, identified with hearing loss within six months of birth, and who receive treatment, develop language skills on a par with normal hearing children.
The longer a child’s hearing loss is left untreated or supplementary language (British Sign Language) not introduced, the more significant the impact on that child’s development.
Below we have listed some of the developmental implications a child may experience:
Vocabulary – Children with untreated hearing loss develop vocabulary at a much slower rate. They can often struggle to use and understand complex words, as well as use function words like ‘the’, ‘an’, ‘are’ and ‘a’.
The longer a hearing loss is left untreated, the wider the gap in vocabulary becomes between hearing impaired and normal hearing children. Children with hearing loss also struggle to grasp the concept of words with multiple meanings. For example “Lead poisoning can lead to health issues”.
Sentence Structure – Children with hearing loss often struggle to understand long sentences, and can only form short ones themselves. They can also struggle to understand, and often mis-use verb tenses, and can find noun plurals indecipherable. This is because they cannot hear words ending in ‘s’ or ‘ed’.
Speaking – Children with hearing loss often cannot hear quiet speech sounds such as ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘f’, ‘t’, and ‘k’ and therefore do not include them in their speech. This can often result in their speech being difficult to comprehend. Children with hearing loss may also speak louder than normal, in an effort for them to hear their own voices. Some children may mumble, whilst other might stress tones in an atypical manner.
Academic Achievement – Children with hearing loss frequently have difficulty with areas of academic achievement, especially in literacy and maths. The gap in academic achievement between children with normal hearing and those with hearing loss usually widens as they progress through school.
Social Functioning – Children with severe to profound hearing loss often report feeling isolated and unhappy at school, particularly when socialising with other children with hearing loss is limited.
The Importance of Early Intervention in Adults
Hearing loss is often a slow process which happens over many years. This gradual onset is often unnoticeable, and consequently, over many years, the brain begins to ‘forget’ certain sounds. It is only on reflection, that hearing impaired people realise that bird song, for example, has been missing from their life.
Unfortunately, and detrimental to the health of hearing impaired people, the average time between a hearing loss becoming evident, and the affected person seeking professional advice is 10 years. This delay is a significant amount of time, during which the brain becomes unfamiliar with everyday sounds.
The prescription of hearing aids to correct this hearing loss can bring back these unfamiliar sounds. The sooner hearing aids are prescribed, the less adapting the brain will have to undertake. If left for a long time, the brain will find it more difficult to adjust to these re-introduced sounds.
When the hearing nerves are deprived of sound, they atrophy – weaken – which makes recovery from hearing loss with the use of hearing aids much more difficult. It certainly appears that keeping the auditory pathway active through amplified stimulation, is the best way to maintain a better quality of hearing, for longer.
Another cause of auditory deprivation is single-hearing-aid-use. The asymmetric use of hearing aids causes one ear to take control of listening, and draws stimulation away from the ‘weaker’ ear. It is often a choice made by price-conscious individuals, but could actually be speeding up the decline of the un-aided ear. If the decision is later made to acquire a pair of hearing aids, the weaker ear will often have a more difficult time adapting to sound.
Improper hearing aid selection, fitting and calibrating can also play a part in an individual’s hearing decline. Just like receiving the wrong spectacle prescription can damage your eyes, the wrong hearing aid prescription can damage your hearing. This emphasises the importance of seeking professional, regulated and trustworthy advice from a qualified dispenser. See our Dangers of Buying Online »
There have been a number of recent clinical studies whose results have indicated a relationship between undiagnosed/untreated hearing loss, and the early onset of dementia. Thankfully, whilst this is not a direct correlation (i.e. those with hearing loss will suffer dementia), the evidence and reasoning provides a compelling argument which the audiology industry has taken note of.
The research indicates that sufferers of undiagnosed/untreated hearing loss are often at higher risk of social isolation, and, as social interaction relies on two-way communication, reclusiveness can ensue. An individual who experiences social isolation is more prone to symptoms of dementia and other mental health issues.
In conclusion, early intervention allows both your auditory pathway and brain to remain active, stimulated and ‘fresh’, delaying deterioration. The sooner you treat hearing loss, the better the outcome using and adapting to hearing aids. The longer you ignore it, the harder it is – don’t delay, as soon as you (or more likely, friends and/or family members) notice a hearing loss, speak to a professional. Hearing is one of life’s precious gifts. Use it, or lose it!