Author: Dolly Bhargava, M. Spec. Ed.

Niemann, Greenstein & David (2004) describe the impact of a hearing impairment where a child can see people talking but cannot understand what is being said.  This results in the child having difficulties understanding the world and in expressing personal needs, resulting in limited interactions and social isolation.  Thus, it is important to identify the hearing impairment as early as possible; otherwise the child will also miss out on important educational experiences (Pagliano, 2005).  Sometimes hearing impairment can go unidentified partly because it is not immediately visible.  A hearing impairment could be so mild that it may it may have gone unnoticed for many years (Smith, Polloway, Patton & Dowdy, 1998).  On the other hand, a hearing impairment may develop over time.  The student is often the last one to recognise or report a loss in hearing unless it has deteriorated significantly.  If the hearing impairment remains undetected, it can result in the student facing a substantial educational disadvantage.  The adverse affect of the hearing impairment can create challenges of a personal, academic and social nature for the student and interfere with reaching full potential.  Teachers need to be aware of the indicators that signal the possibility that a student has an undiagnosed hearing loss.  On a medical note, if the hearing problem is undetected and untreated, it can cause permanent loss of hearing and the long-term consequences for the quality of life can be serious.

Consider the case of Sue, a 10 year old girl who had undiagnosed conductive hearing impairment with a mild hearing loss in her left ear.  She thought most of her friends mumbled a lot.  Sue stated that she had to strain to listen to them and found it difficult following a conversation, especially in group situations.  She would often have to ask her friends to repeat themselves.  Often Sue wouldn’t realize that someone was calling her, especially if they were in another room or if it was a very noisy classroom.  She would often ask for the volume of the TV or stereo to be turned up or would sit closer to them to hear properly.  Without adult awareness, her impairment continued unrecognized.

Table 1 is a simple Yes/No checklist of the signs and symptoms that are indicative of whether a student in your class has a hearing impairment.  If any of these behaviours are present, teachers should consider suggesting to the student’s caregivers that they refer the student to a health professional for a formal hearing assessment (Fraser, 1996; Kuster, 1993).  Smith et. al. (1998) state “A teacher’s careful observations and referral can spare a student months or years of struggle and frustration” (p. 217).

Table 1

Identification of Students with Hearing Impairments

Possible Sign of a Hearing Impairment



Turning head to position ear in the direction of the speaker



Favoring one ear over another



Using a loud voice when speaking



Mispronouncing words (such as misarticulation of certain speech sounds or omitting certain consonant sounds)



Asking for information to be repeated frequently



Not responding when addressed



Difficulty with following directions or instructions



Seeming distracted and/or confused



Appearing to be inattentive, restless, tired or daydreaming



Distracted easily by visual or auditory stimuli



Lack of, or delayed development of speech and language



Intently watching faces during conversation



Giving incorrect answers to questions



Not startled by loud noises



Preferring to be by themselves (i.e., playing alone rather than with a group, or withdrawing from social situations)



Problems hearing environmental sounds (i.e., doorbell, telephone ringing, people calling and/or talking to the student from behind)



Sitting close to the sound source (i.e.,TV, radio, and/or turning up the volume



(Sources: Adapted from Pagliano (2005), Smith et al. (1998), and Waldron (1996).