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Helping children with hearing loss to listen and learn

Children with hearing loss have problems hearing or understanding sound. The hearing loss can be in one ear (unilateral), or in both ears (bilateral).

Children with hearing loss can have problems with learning. Parents, teachers, audiologists, and other healthcare providers need to work together to help the child understand their hearing loss and to get the equipment and help the child needs. Different strategies and equipment may work for different children.

Children with hearing loss may have problems with:

  • hearing or understanding what’s being said to them in a noisy room or from far away (sometimes called selective hearing)
  • paying attention (they may be easily distracted)
  • following spoken instructions and conversations
  • acting out because they’re frustrated
  • keeping up with classroom work
  • developing speech and language, including grammar and vocabulary
  • missing small words (e.g., an, the)
  • spelling, reading, and being able to recognize the different sounds in words (this is called phonemic awareness)
  • hearing sounds clearly enough to be able to tell small differences in words (e.g., talked vs. talk vs. top, word endings including “-s”, “-ing”, “-ed”)
  • getting along with other children and being confident in social settings
  • becoming tired more easily than classmates
  • missing important information when the conversation is not directed towards them
  • being sensitive to loud sounds
  • knowing where speech, warning sounds, environmental noises are coming from

Create a good listening environment

At home, move close to your child and away from other noises before speaking (e.g., dishwasher, television, stereo, door, window, heater). If your child hears better with one ear, then make sure it’s closer to you before speaking.

At school, your child should sit close to where the teacher stands or sits when teaching and away from noise sources when possible (e.g., door, window, heater, trash, pencil sharpener). If your child hears better with one ear, it should be closer to the teacher.

Make sure your child has a clear view of the person speaking and nothing is in their way. At school, try putting the desks in short rows or horseshoe shapes.

Use a classroom amplification system to help your child be able to hear and understand the speaker’s voice.

To make it easier to hear and understand speech at home and in the classroom:

  • use area carpets, curtains, and acoustic ceiling tiles
  • put bulletin boards and artwork on the walls
  • close doors and windows
  • cover desk or chair feet with soft material (e.g., felt pads, tennis balls, socks)
  • make sure heating and air conditioning systems are working properly
  • turn off noises before talking (e.g., television, radio, projector)

Help your child to pay attention and understand

  • Get your child’s attention before talking, giving instructions, or starting new activities. Try calling their name, touching their shoulder, flicking the lights, or using a hand signal or word you both agree on.
  • Show your child who’s talking and repeat or rephrase what they say.
  • If your child doesn’t understand something, try using different words that are easy to understand instead of repeating the same question or statement.
  • Ask your child questions to help them understand the subject you’re talking about.
  • “Chunk” instructions into short pieces and only include what they need to know.
  • At school, teachers should give children short breaks during lessons and face the students when giving spoken instructions. Your child’s classroom microphone can be passed around during discussions or presentations.

Watch for signs of frustration

  • Your child may not know you’re talking to them and may not respond.
  • Encourage your child to let you or their teacher know when they don’t hear or understand something, or if noise bothers them.
  • Give your child enough time to think about what you said before they respond.
  • Involve your child in group activities they enjoy (e.g., swimming, crafts, gymnastics, music).
  • It’s important to be patient and encouraging.

Use visual cues

  • Face your child, speak clearly and slowly, and stand still when talking.
  • Keep objects away from your face when talking (e.g., gum, mustache, pen, hands, books).
  • Encourage your child to watch the speaker’s face.
  • Room lighting should shine on the speaker’s face (it causes a glare when it’s behind them).

At school, use visual aids to help the child understand the lesson:

  • put up charts, lists, or diagrams of classroom routines
  • write new words on the blackboard
  • write instructions and assignments on the board and have the children copy them down
  • use experiments and demonstrations to help with learning

If the classroom lights need to be off, keep a light on near the teacher’s face so children can see the teacher’s mouth and face when speaking.

How to help your pre-school child learn language

  • Use hands-on activities (e.g., play house, bake, build Lego) to help with learning.
  • Talk about things as they happen. Talk about what the child is hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and doing.
  • Use daily activities (e.g., shopping, making supper, going for a walk) to teach new words. Children learn words from hearing them many times in many different ways.
  • Read to your child as often and as much as possible.

Pay attention to how well your preschool child is hearing and learning to talk and use language (e.g., putting words together, using the right words). Once your child goes to school, stay in touch with the teacher and pay attention to how well your child is doing with their lessons.

How teachers can help children with hearing problems

Give children as much one-to-one attention in the classroom as possible

  • To help make sure the child understands the lessons, give extra one-to-one teaching and help with language.
  • Help the child understand instructions and questions during exams so they’re being tested on their knowledge and not their language skills. They may also need to move to a quieter room.
  • Give lesson outlines to parents and classroom helpers so they can help the child with new words and concepts before the lesson.
  • Have a classmate help the child if they miss an important lesson or instructions, or if they don’t understand assignments.

Be familiar with the child’s hearing aids and FM system

  • Hearing aids and personal FM systems help the child to hear better but they may still have trouble hearing or understanding speech.
  • Ask parents or educational audiologists to teach you about the hearing aids or FM system. Learn how to do a listening check, change or charge batteries, turn the device on and off, and make sure volume controls are set correctly.
  • Have the child’s parents leave extra batteries at school.
  • Watch for behaviour changes that suggest the child’s hearing aids/FM system are not working properly.

Parents, caregivers, and teachers need to work together to understand your child’s successes and troubles. Together, you can make a plan to help your child succeed.​​

Where to go get help

For more information about how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help, contact:

  • Your doctor, public health nurse, or other health provider
  • Your local health centre​

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