Humans begin hearing the sounds of the language in their environment while they are still in utero. By the third trimester, they typically are able to hear the mother’s voice when she speaks, which allows them to pick up on the tonal patterns of their native tongue. This sets the foundation for babies to develop speech and spoken language skills during their first few years of life.

Talking and reading aloud to babies develops stong language skills.

In order to learn to understand, imitate, and ultimately produce coherent spoken language, it is essential that children hear clear models of speech sounds. For this reason, hearing screenings are conducted at birth to identify children who may be at risk for significant, permanent hearing loss. If hearing loss is identified at birth, appropriate intervention can be provided to ensure that the child has access to strong language models (either spoken or signed). However, hearing loss can occur at any point in the life span and should always be ruled out in the event that a child has a delay in speech and language development.

There are many potential causes of hearing loss. Temporary or fluctuating hearing loss due to ear infections is very common in children. Chronic ear infections can cause children to have academic difficulties, particularly with learning new vocabulary, comprehending new concepts, and following directions, in addition to difficulties with developing speech and language skills. Therefore, it is important to make sure that ear infections are managed appropriately by working with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician (PCP). The PCP may refer your child to an otolaryngologist or ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT), depending on the severity and frequency of the ear infections.

Audiologists can test hearing at any age, so no patient is too young or old for a hearing test. If you have concerns about your child’s communication and academic skills, it is a good idea to have them receive a hearing test to rule out hearing loss as a potential cause. It is always better to confirm a child’s hearing status sooner rather than later so that appropriate treatment can be provided.

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By Dr. Keena James Seward, AuD, CCC-A/SLP

3L Therapy Solutions, LLC