Could Your Child’s Speech Issues Result From A Hearing Problem?

If you're like many parents, you may carefully monitor both your own child's milestones and those of others in the same age group to ensure your child is developmentally on track. While these types of comparisons can often result in needless worry if your child happens to be behind the curve in certain areas, in some cases, they may be the first clue that you're dealing with a more serious problem. If your toddler or preschooler is slow to speak or his or her words are much more garbled than his or her peers', it's possible a hearing problem is to blame. Read on to learn more about the effect of hearing loss or other auditory issues on early speech, as well as the testing and treatment options that may restore your child's hearing.

What speech issues can indicate hearing loss?

The ability to hear clearly is key in language development -- although children who are congenitally deaf or hard of hearing (HOH) are able to learn speech through sign language and lip-reading, the process of hearing and mimicking sounds is what leads children from babbling to words to full sentences over a relatively brief period of time. Even minor hearing loss in only one ear can impact a child's ability to enunciate certain words; and the longer a child mishears or mispronounces words, the more difficult this can be to correct.

In addition to mispronunciation (which is common for all toddlers and preschoolers learning languages), a few speech issues that can be a red flag to indicate hearing problems include: 

  • Inability to grasp abstract words or concepts (like "angry" or "jealous") despite understanding more concrete words like cat, spoon, or house;
  • Difficulty with homonyms, homophones, or words with multiple meanings (especially words that can serve as both a verb and a noun, like house (a home or "to store")); and
  • An ever-widening gap between your child and his or her peers when it comes to language.

If you've noticed that your child seems just a bit behind on his or her speech at age 2 and then observe that he or she is still at around the same level by age 3 while other children seem to be sprinting ahead, this may be a sign intervention is warranted. While all children learn and develop at different rates, early childhood is a period of such rapid emotional and intellectual growth that a child who seems to be stalling may have physical factors at play.

What are your testing and treatment options for early childhood hearing loss? 

If your child's speech issues have led you to consider whether he or she could be dealing with hearing loss, your best bet is to make an appointment with a pediatric audiologist at a clinic like Audiology Consultants, P.C. This professional will be able to administer a hearing test that can provide more information on the extent of your child's hearing loss and whether one or both ears are affected.

If this hearing test does indicate problems, you'll then want to schedule a physical examination to rule out any easily treatable physical issues that could be causing haring loss. In some cases, hearing loss may be due to a buildup of ear wax or even scar tissue following multiple inner ear infections -- removing these blockages should restore your child's hearing without further intervention. In other situations, the hearing loss may be congenital and require a hearing aid or cochlear implant to allow your child to hear the same words and sounds as others in his or her age group. Regardless of the treatment path you choose, being armed with information and the knowledge of precisely what is leading to these hearing problems can help you make the best decision.