Children learn to speak by listening, and how well they succeed has big consequences on their general happiness, progress at school and later outcomes in life. That's why it's so important to get help for children who aren't hearing well, or struggle with learning to talk. But hearing problems in children are under-diagnosed, and children who have them too rarely get the services they need, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a good reminder for parents to take their child in for a hearing screening if they suspect a problem with hearing or speech.
"Helen Keller once noted that of all her impairments, she was perhaps troubled most by her lack of speech and hearing," according to Michigan State University's communicative sciences and disorders department. "She elaborated that while blindness separated her from things, her lack of speech and hearing separated her from people — the human connection of communication."
About 43 million U.S. people have a speech, voice, language or hearing impairment and almost 28 million have hearing loss. About 10 percent of children have moderate to severe communication impairments, making them four to five times more likely than other kids to have other language-learning disabilities such as reading problems, MSU statistics say.
Hearing loss affects children in multiple ways. Speech and language skills develop more slowly and academic achievement can be reduced. These problems often lead to social isolation and poor self-esteem, ASHA reported. But early intervention can help.
In recognition of Better Speech and Hearing Month, the national advocacy group is encouraging parents not to wait to seek services if they suspect a problem such as stuttering, articulation, slow development of vocabulary or impaired hearing.
Parents who think their children may have such problems can check ASHA's online directory of audiology and speech-language pathology programs to find a certified speech-language pathologist or audiologist in their area. Find it at www.asha.org/findpro/. Many local school districts have early intervention programs for babies and pre-school children with speech and hearing difficulties, another good avenue for parents to pursue.