The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is urging the public to incorporate hearing tests as part of back-to-school preparations for children.

Roughly 15% of children ages 6–19 years 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 affect a child’s academic success.

“Even if a child is missing 5% or 10% of what is being taught in school, those may be key details that are critical to their understanding of the broader concept, lesson, or instructions,” says Robert Augustine, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2023 ASHA President. “Beyond learning difficulties, unaddressed hearing loss can also result in social and behavioral challenges. We want to set children up for success, and that means timely intervention for any hearing difficulties.”

Hearing screenings are available in some schools, but the requirements can vary widely by state. Generally, hearing screenings are not part of a child’s annual physical but occur every few years at the most. This means that some kids could go many years without having their hearing tested.

Further reading: The Impact of Adding Tympanometry to Hearing Screenings for Children

ASHA urges parents and caregivers to familiarize themselves with the signs of hearing loss, especially since hearing loss can be acquired at any age. If their child displays any of the signs, families should seek a full hearing evaluation from a certified audiologist

According to ASHA, the signs in school-aged children may include:

  • hearing only parts of a conversation (frequently asking people to repeat themselves);
  • listening to TV or other electronic devices at high volumes (louder than what is comfortable for others);
  • sudden difficulty achieving academically;
  • unexplained social difficulties and/or seeming unhappy in school;
  • hearing ringing or buzzing in the ears;
  • difficulty following directions or paying attention; and
  • feeling exhausted at the end of a school day.

If a child is evaluated and found to have hearing loss, there are ways for them to have complete access to classroom instruction. This may include fitting children with hearing aids or other personal sound amplification devices (kids should never use over-the-counter hearing aids, which are only for adults). 

There are also classroom technologies, specific teaching strategies, and accommodations that can be made. Audiologists will assist by working with school staff to help children succeed academically.

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