- The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2005, 278 million people worldwide have moderate to severe hearing impairment in both ears.
- 80% of hearing-impaired people live in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).
- 50% of cases of hearing impairment is avoidable through prevention, early diagnosis, and management.
- In the US alone, more than 5 million children have a language, speech or hearing disorder.
- In LMIC, less than 1 in 40 people who need a hearing aid can afford one.
Hearing and speech problems most often go together. These disorders may be due to birth and genetic defects, illnesses or injuries. The earlier hearing disorders occur in a child’s life, the higher are their impact in the child’s development, especially language and speech development as well as gross motoric skills and balance. Later on, it can affect the child’s social and learning skills. Like in most disorders, the key to successful resolution is early detection and intervention. Since 1927, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has observed the Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) every May. The month is focused on raising awareness of speech and hearing disorders, especially among parents. Many parents are not adept in identifying such kind of disorders in their children, much more knowing what to do once they observe a problem. BHSM “provide parents with information about communication disorders to help ensure that they do not seriously affect their children’s ability to learn, socialize with others, and be successful in school.”
According to ASHA, some signs of speech and language disorders in children are:
- Articulation problems (“wabbit” instead of “rabbit”)
- Language disorders such as the slow development of vocabulary, concepts, and grammar.
- Voice disorders (nasal, breathy, or horse voice and speech that is too high or low)
As mother of twin boys who were born premature and brought up bilingually, I am always on alert whether my children’s language skills are developing normally on not.
- Inconsistently responding to sound
- Delayed language and speech development
- Unclear speech
- Sound is turned up on electronic equipment (radio, TV, cd player, etc.)
- Does not follow directions
- Often says “Huh?”
- Does not respond when called
- Frequently misunderstands what is said and wants things repeated
Normally, the pediatrician or the family doctor should check children right from infancy for hearing problems. It is also recommended that starting the age of 5 or at the latest, right before school entry, children should undergo a general physical exam which should include eye tests but also hearing and speech screenings.
The professionals who can help:
- An Ears, Nose & Throat (ENT) specialist (also called otolaryngologist) is specialized in disorders of these organs. However, only a small fraction of his or her work has something to do with the ears of hearing.
- An otologists (sometimes called neurotologists) is usually an ENT who has taken additional training or studies to specialized mainly with the ear and hearing disorders.
- An audiologist is non-medical professional who is specialized in the non-medical management of hearing and balance disorders. He or she is not a doctor but can conduct hearing screenings and perform rehabilitation therapies and refer patients to a medical specialist
- A speech-language pathologist can conduct evaluations and diagnosis of speech and language disorders as well as conduct therapies and rehabilitation problems.