Hearing is key to children’s speech and language development. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your child is meeting certain milestones during the first three years. Le Bonheur Audiologist Tracey Ambrose explains hearing loss in early childhood and what you need to know about milestones.

Three out of every 1,000 babies are born every year with hearing loss, and an additional three children in 1,000 will develop hearing loss in early childhood. Because hearing loss prevents the normal development of speech and language, this is a neurodevelopmental crisis for these children. Research estimates that 90 percent of children’s learning occurs through incidental hearing of language in the environment. Even a slight hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to learn language due to reduced access to incidental learning.

Parents should notice these milestones if their child is hearing properly. Your pediatrician is a great resource if you have any concerns.

Birth to 3 months:

  • Startles to loud sounds
  • Increases or decreases sucking behavior in response to sound
  • Can be soothed (stops crying) when spoken to

4 to 6 months:

  • Looks toward direction of sounds
  • Recognizes voice tone
  • Interested by toys that make noise
  • Listens to music

7 to 12 months:

  • Recognizes words for common items like cup, book, juice, etc.
  • Starts to respond to commands and questions

12 to 24 months:

  • Follows simple directions and understands requests
  • Listens to simple stories, songs and rhymes
  • Can point to pictures to identify simple items

24 to 36 months:

  • Comprehends opposites ( go/ stop or yes/no)
  • Can follow two-step commands
  • Pays attention to hearing longer stories

Risk factors

Some children may be at risk to acquiring hearing loss in early childhood if they have the following risk factors:

  • chronic ear infections
  • maternal infection during pregnancy (CMV, syphilis)
  • meningitis
  • facial bone anomalies
  • received ECMO treatment
  • head trauma (especially involving temporal bone)family history of hearing loss in children
  • failed newborn hearing screening
  • extended time spent on mechanical ventilation as an infant
  • received medicine that is potentially toxic to inner ear (aminoglycosides)
  • kidney anomalies
  • jaundice requiring transfusion
  • extended stay in NICU (greater than five days)

Fortunately, research has shown that many of the negative effects of hearing loss can be greatly decreased or even averted with early identification and intervention.

If your child has any of these risk factors or is not developing at the rate outlined above, ask your pediatrician for a referral to an audiologist.