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Hearing Impairments

Fact Sheet

What is a hearing impairment?

Having a hearing impairment means that a child has lost some hearing in one or both ears. Hearing impairments are described according to how much hearing has been lost. Loss is usually explained as mild, moderate, moderate to severe, severe, or profound.

How is it manifested?

There are different types of hearing loss: conductive, sensory, mixed (conductive and sensory combined), and neural.

  1. Conductive hearing loss
    This happens when there is a problem with part of the outer or middle ear. Most children with conductive hearing loss have a mild hearing loss and it is usually temporary. In most cases, medical treatment helps.
  2. Sensory hearing loss
    This happens when the cochlea (the snail-shaped structure in the inner ear containing the organ of hearing) is not working correctly because the tiny hair cells are damaged or destroyed. Depending on the loss, a child may be able to hear most sounds (although they would be muffled), only some sounds, or no sounds at all. Sensory hearing impairment is almost always permanent and a child’s ability to talk normally may be affected.
  3. Neural hearing loss
    This occurs when there is a problem with the connection from the cochlea to the brain. Neural hearing loss means the nerve that carries the messages from the cochlea to the brain is damaged.
  4. Mild impairment
    The child hears and can understand a normal conversational voice, but will not follow all quiet speech that others can hear and may often ask, “What?”
  5. Moderate impairment
    The child does not hear all of normal conversational speech and requires louder, stronger, and aggressively-toned responses. Some effect on the child’s speech development is likely unless the child receives help.
  6. Severe impairment
    The child will not hear any normal conversation and only a few sounds of loud speech.
  7. Profound impairment:
    The child will hear only the loudest noises and may not get sufficient help even from a hearing aid. Insertion of a cochlear implant (“bionic ear”) may need to be considered.

Who is affected?

Approximately 40 in 10,000 children are born with a hearing loss. An additional 12 in 10,000 will acquire at least a moderate hearing loss by the age of seventeen.

How is it diagnosed or detected?

The type of tests used to diagnose hearing loss depend on the age of the child, but can include:

  • Simple tests, such as shaking a rattle nearby and observing the response (behavioural observation audiometry).
  • Tests such as auditory brainstem response testing, which measure the electrical activity in the brain in response to a sound.
  • Tests with an audiometer – a machine that produces sounds such as beeps and whistles. Whether or not the child can hear certain sounds helps to pinpoint his/her degree of hearing loss.

Additional Resources:

Bob Rumball Association for the Deaf (ONTARIO MISSION OF THE DEAF) –
The Bob Rumball Association for the Deaf and The Ontario Community Centre for the Deaf have amalgamated to support the deaf by providing funding for activities, services and support to further the quality of life for deaf people in Ontario.

Canadian Hearing
The Canadian Hearing Society provides services that enhance the independence of deaf, deafened and hard-of-hearing people, and encourages the prevention of hearing loss. It provides a range of services including the support of consumer groups in advocacy, consultation and training, mail order assistive devices and educational materials, as well as public education.

Voice for Hearing Impaired
VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children was established in the early 1960’s by parents to offer support to families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing. These parents wanted their hearing-impaired children to be educated alongside their hearing peers in regular schools. By working collectively, they succeeded in achieving this goal and provided the tremendous benefit of sharing information and providing support to one another.

The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA)
The CHHA works cooperatively with professionals, service providers and government bodies. It provides information about hard-of-hearing issues and solutions. CHHA is Canada’s only nation-wide non-profit consumer organization run by, and for, hard-of-hearing people.
CHHA works to eliminate the isolation, indignation, and frustration of hard-of-hearing and deafened persons by assisting in increasing personal self-esteem and confidence which will lead to total integration in society.

Hospital of Sick
Audiologists at the Hospital for Sick Children are responsible for the assessment of auditory function and the treatment and prevention of auditory dysfunction in children ages 0-18 years. They provide education and counselling for children experiencing hearing difficulties and associated problems.

Books and Literature:
Parentbooks offers the most comprehensive selection of resources available anywhere – from planning a family, to everyday parenting issues, to special needs of all kinds. It also has a selection of resources for caregivers, counselors, therapists, educators, and clinicians.

Choices in Deafness: a Parents’ Guide to Communication Options, 2nd Edition
By Sue Schwartz

Deaf-Blind Infants and Children: A Developmental Guide
By J.M. McInnes and J.A. Treffry

Educating Deaf Students: From Research to Practice
By Marc Marschark

Kid-Friendly Parenting with Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children
By Denise Weston

The Kids’ Pocket Signing Guide: The Simple Way to Learn to Sign Using Everyday Phrases
By Mickey Flodin

Taking Hearing Impairment to School (for 5-10 year olds)
By Elaine Ernst Schneider, illustrated by Tom Dineen

Teach your Tot to Sign: The Parents’ Guide to American Sign Language
By Stacy Thompson

The Young Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Child: A Family Centered Approach to Early Education
By Barbara Bodner-Johnson and Marilyn Sass-Lehrer

The Canadian Dictionary of ASL
By Carole Sue Bailey and Kathy Dolby

Caring for Young Children: Signing for Day Care Providers and Sitters
By S. Harold Collins

The content contained in this document is for general information purposes. It is not the intention to diagnose or treat a child.

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