Learning to speak, as well as learning in general, becomes even more of a challenge when someone is faced with an additional disability of not hearing or not hearing clearly. Learning to read, if one cannot clearly distinguish sounds or hear sounds, can be frustrating. Early detection of hearing problems with children in general and our children with Down syndrome is essential. Otolaryngologists (Ear, Nose, Throat physicians/ENT) and audiologists are the professionals who can help diagnose and treat hearing problems.
Did you know?
- A baby’s cry is heard at approximately 70 decibels (loudness) and 500 hertz (pitch of sound)
- A phone is heard at approximately 80 decibels and 3000 hertz
- The f, s, and th sounds are heard at approximately 20 decibels and 4000 hertz
- The m,d,b, and n sounds are heard at approximately 40 decibels and 400 hertz
- Babies can be tested immediately following birth
- Toddlers who have not yet developed language skills can be tested
- Teens and adults with little or no language can be tested to assess hearing skills
So, imagine if one has a hearing loss in one or both ears. Learning from social cues (laughing, whispering) or environmental cues (phone ringing, bath overflowing, timer ringing) becomes a challenge. Even a mild loss can distort how speech is perceived.
- Mild loss (25-39 decibels) - vowel sounds heard clearly; some consonants missed; more difficult in noisy places
- Moderate loss (40–68 decibels) - can understand face to face conversation; may miss large group discussion
- Severe loss (70-94 decibels) - may hear loud sounds or loud voices
- Profound loss (greater than 94 decibels) - may hear some loud sounds and feel vibrations
Many children with Down syndrome experience hearing difficulties. The bones and the cartilage of the ear may not have formed properly and there might be constant or intermittent interference of the sound getting in. This can be due to wax, fluid or other issues. These problems can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Don’t forget the additional fatigue the children face just straining to listen! Certain behaviors can be misinterpreted as “negative” such as ignoring and not listening. Ignoring or not listening because one can’t hear is very different than a person choosing to ignore and not listen.
It is crucial for us as parents and professionals to monitor the hearing abilities of children and adults with Down syndrome to ensure that their sense of hearing is functioning to its fullest potential.