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Unforeseen Consequences: The Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on America’s Children

Unforeseen Consequences: The Impact of Untreated Hearing Loss on America’s Children

Too many children with hearing loss don’t get adequate help. Many parents either don’t recognize the hearing problem, minimize it, or have been given misinformation regarding the ability to treat their child’s hearing loss.

In fact, at least 50 percent of parents don’t come back for detailed testing when their infant fails an initial hearing screening. And too many educators, pediatricians, and other healthcare providers underestimate the impact of mild or unilateral (affecting one ear) hearing loss. Hundreds of thousands of children, in turn, are left vulnerable to a wide range of social, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems.

Are 1 Million Dependents with Hearing Loss in America Being Left Behind? is a new national study that explores the unforeseen consequences of untreated hearing loss on America’s children. This alarming analysis reveals the high price our children are paying for the pitfalls in how we—parents, educators, and the healthcare community—are addressing hearing loss in our youth.

The study was conducted by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) among a national sample of parents of 225 youth from infancy to age 21—all of whom were reported by their parents to have hearing loss and not use hearing aids.

The study underscores how the early stages of a child’s development can be greatly affected by hearing, and it serves as an impetus for further dialogue on how we can better serve our children with hearing loss. For parents, the study comes as a shrill reminder to thoroughly address a child’s hearing loss.

Key findings:

§ Historically, at least half of parents don’t bring their infant back for detailed testing after having failed an initial hearing screening.

§ An estimated 1.5 million youth (including adult dependents) under the age of 21 have hearing loss that may be improved with amplification.

§ Only 12 percent of children under the age of 18 with hearing loss use hearing aids.

§ The study found no evidence of the use of any form of hearing assistance in the classroom (e.g. FM systems, hearing aids, speakers), other than front-row seating.

§ Hearing loss leaves children vulnerable to other problems, according to three out of four parents of children with hearing loss. Common problem areas include:

o Social skills (52%)
o Speech and language development (51%)
o Grades in school (50%)
o Emotional health (42%)
o Relationships with peers (38%)
o Self-esteem (37%)
o Relationships with family (36%)

§ Three in ten parents (32%) cite embarrassment or other social stigma issues as a reason their child does not use a hearing aid.

§ One out of five (22%) parents say they are unable to afford hearing devices.

§ Four in ten parents were told that their child did not need amplification because they had hearing loss in only one ear.

§ Two in ten parents were mistakenly told that their child could not be helped because they had high frequency hearing loss. Another 20 percent were told they could not be helped because they had a low frequency hearing loss.

Key educational and public policy questions raised by the study:

§ Do educators, medical doctors, and hearing healthcare professionals underestimate the impact of mild and unilateral hearing loss on children?

§ Are pediatricians sufficiently trained to measure hearing loss and advise parents of treatment options?

§ Is the prevalence of treatable hearing loss among children under-represented in the United States when subjective methodology (e.g., parental awareness) is used to assess hearing loss?

§ Do parents have viable options for paying for hearing aids for their children if they can’t personally afford them?

§ Why are only a minority of children in America with hearing loss recipients of amplification, and what can be done in the medical and hearing health profession to make sure that all children receive adequate help for their hearing loss?

§ Are too many young people in America being left behind because they don’t fit existing models of hearing disability?

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Founded in 1973, BHI is a not-for-profit educational organization whose mission is to educate the public about hearing loss, its treatment and prevention.
To download a copy of the study, “Are 1 Million Dependents in America with Hearing Loss Being Left Behind?” or to download a copy of “A Guide to Your Child’s Hearing” visit the BHI website at
Posted 1.28.08