Why auditory skill development is essential for children with hearing loss

By Jennifer Manley, MS, CED

Many people equate a hearing aid or cochlear implant for children with hearing loss as someone needing glasses to see clearly.  However, this analogy isn’t the same.  Children with hearing loss need to be taught how to listen with a hearing aid or cochlear implant.  Their brains need to be taught how to make sense of the spoken language and environmental sounds they hear.  Once children who need glasses put them on, their brains can immediately recognize and identify what they see.

The process in which teachers of the deaf and speech-language pathologists teach children to use listening devices to make sense of verbal and nonverbal sounds is called auditory skill or listening development.  This process should begin with intention.  Auditory skills of children with hearing loss do not develop at the same rate or in the same way without intentional, specific teaching.  Children using hearing aids and cochlear implants need to hear speech or sounds and attach meaning to it.

Consider a school-aged child who is receiving a cochlear implant after consistent hearing aid use for a number of years.  Because of the difference in how sound is delivered with these different devices (in addition to many other factors), the child will not hear speech and sounds in the exact way as with hearing aids.  He will first need to detect sound with the new devices.  He will also need to listen to the suprasegmental aspects, or stress, duration and intonation of speech.  For example, he may not recognize all the words in a song, but he can recognize the melody. With time he will also learn to listen to the words and identify them in the song, so he can sing along.  Along the way, professionals are needed to teach him strategies to do this.  And it takes time. With this particular example, he may do this process more quickly because he has learned to listen with hearing aids first and has some auditory connections made.

Instead of the glasses analogy, let’s use an analogy of an amputee getting a prosthetic leg.  As soon as he gets the prosthetic, we wouldn’t expect him to go out and run a marathon. We’d expect that he’d get training on how to develop his muscles to learn to walk first.  However, many are expecting children with hearing loss to “run marathons” with their devices without training their brains.  Instead let’s give them the training needed to develop their auditory skills.

Jennifer Manley served as a classroom teacher for students ages 3 to 12 at CID – Central Institute for the Deaf. She currently works in professional development giving presentations on auditory development and is co-author of CID SPICE for Life, an auditory learning curriculum and author of the 2nd edition of CID SPICE.

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