Effects of mild bilateral hearing loss in school-age children

Effects of mild bilateral hearing loss in school-age children

Sarah Fredj, MPA

Today, hearing loss, in general, is still often misunderstood. Approximately 5.4% of school-aged children have mild hearing loss (Bess and colleagues (1998)). It is, therefore, clear that mild hearing loss and the consequences caused by it can easily be underestimated. School-age children with mild hearing loss may be significantly affected in their social and academic functioning. We should, therefore, not believe that a low degree of hearing loss only causes minimal effects in these children. On the contrary, these effects are reflected in multiple domains, including cognitive performance, academic performance, language performance, and social and behavioral performance.

Cognitive performance 
Researchers assessed the cognitive abilities of children with mild and severe hearing loss by administering a battery of tests. They compared them to a control group with normal hearing. It turned out that participants with mild hearing loss had an average IQ of 2.5 points lower than participants with normal hearing. On the other hand, participants with more severe hearing loss had an average IQ of almost 7 points lower than the control group. There is a correlation between the degree of hearing loss and the IQ of the participants because the greater the hearing loss, the lower their IQ. (Teasdale & Sorensen, 2007).

Academic performance 
Bess and colleagues (1998) found that in a sampling of 1,218 children, 5.4% of school-age children were identified as having mild sensorineural hearing loss. Among these children, approximately 37% of them had repeated a school year and 8% performed below the average for their class. The failure rate was 10 times higher than in the general population (Bess, Dodd-Murph & Parker, 1998). See the graphs below.

Language performance
The benefits of early intervention, before six months of age, in children with hearing loss are well known. Indeed, children with mild hearing loss who were identified and treated before the age of six months have higher expressive and comprehensive language results compared to children detected after the age of 6 months. One of the factors to consider is that before this age, the proximity of the parents to the child allows for a higher signal-to-noise ratio. It is after six months, when the baby begins to move independently (crawling) that the signal-to-noise ratio can become less optimal, hence the importance of acting early in order to promote the development of the child. (Yoshinaga, Sedey, Coul & terMehl, 1998)

Social skills and behaviors  
To assess the social and behavioral skills of children with mild hearing loss, Bess and her colleagues (1998) used the COOP questionnaire. The latter measures the functional state of children in the 3rd and 6th grades of primary school as well as the 3rd grade of secondary school. Overall, the test assesses ten different aspects, including emotions, social support, stress, self-esteem, behavior, energy, etc. Analyzing the results, it was found that children with mild sensorineural hearing loss performed worse, particularly among children in the 3rd year of secondary school, compared to their peers with normal hearing. Regarding children in the 6th year of primary school, the results show less energy and significantly lower self-esteem than the control group. Also, children in Secondary 3 have less social support, feel more stress, and have less self-esteem. (Bess, Dodd-Murph & Parker, 1998).

In conclusion, mild hearing loss definitely has significant effects on school-age children at the cognitive, academic, language, social, and behavioral levels. These children also have to put in more effort than their peers to be able to keep up well in class.


1. Bess, F. Dodd-Murphy, J. Parker, R. (1998). Children with minimal sensorineural hearing loss: prevalence, educational performance, and functional status. Ear and Hearing, 19(5), 339–354
2. Teasdale, T.W. & Sorensen, M.H. (2007). Hearing loss in relation to educational attainment and cognitive abilities: A population study. International Journal of Audiology, 46(1), 172–175.
3. Yoshinaga-Itano,C., Sedey. A.L., Coulter, D.K. & Mehl, A. (1998). Language of early-and later-identified children with hearing loss. Pediatrics, 102(5), 1161–1171.


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