Hearing management

09 July 2018

Could hearing loss be the cause of my child's poor academic performance?

Hearing loss, regardless of the severity, can have a negative effect on a child's academic performance.


Picture a student in class who misbehaves, is constantly distracted and struggles to obtain good results.

Your first thought might be that the child is struggling with a learning disability. However, you might want to consider the possibility of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss is more common than you might think. According to the South African Hearing Institute, about 7.5% of South African school children suffer from varying degrees of hearing loss.

How does hearing loss impact learning ability? 

Hearing is fundamental to speech and language development, learning and communication in a child. As the result of hearing loss, delays occur in the development of speech and language. Those delays then lead to learning problems, resulting in dismal school performance.

However, the link between hearing loss and poor performance in the classroom is often not initially made. Poor academic performance may be accompanied by poor behaviour and the inability to pay attention. As a result, children with hearing loss are often misdiagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADD and ADHD.

Hearing loss does not equate to a lack of capability. In many instances, the classroom setting itself is not conducive for a child with hearing loss. For example, a teacher who has to deal with many students, or a teacher not equipped to teach a child with hearing loss, will most likely struggle to change their teaching style to accommodate them.

Signs of hearing loss vs. learning problems

There are signs that teachers should look out for in the classroom in order to identify learning problems or hearing loss.

Learning problems: 

  • Trouble with reading and writing
  • Problems with basic maths
  • Difficulty remembering concepts
  • Struggling to follow directions
  • Impulsive behaviour 
  • Poor coordination
  • Inability to stay organised

Signs that parents or teachers should consider hearing loss:

  • Inappropriate responses to questions
  • The child often asks you to repeat things
  • Struggles to say words and sentences correctly
  • Has difficulty focusing on one voice when several people are talking
  • Speech problems
  • Constant daydreaming in class
  • Inability to follow instructions

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, children with hearing loss may not use sounds like ch, p, s, sh, f, t or as these are quiet sounds that are hard to hear. Imagine the frustration of not being able to hear these consonants that convey meaning in the English language. This makes it easier to understand the daily academic struggles of a child with hearing loss.

Early intervention

Research has shown that intervention in the early stages is key to stimulating academic performance on par with their abilities.  

new study reports that children with severe hearing loss demonstrated a much lesser degree of average or above average performance than their hearing peers, even when fitted with cochlear implants (CIs). Having bilateral CIs at younger ages predicted the best outcomes. 

Teachers are able to help students by gaining knowledge on how a child with hearing loss receives and processes information.

A child who is having difficulties in school should be examined by a hearing healthcare professional, especially if there is a history of hearing loss in the family. Once the results have been determined, proper treatment can be recommended.

For many, hearing aids are the first choice. There are three types of hearing aids which can assist in the hearing quality of your child:

  • The smallest model, which is placed deeply in the ear canal and therefore barely visible
  • The discreet in-the-ear model
  • The small classic behind-the-ear model

While intervention is vitally important for successful academic performance, support both at home and at school is crucial. If you think your child is suffering from hearing loss, book an appointment with their paediatrician or a hearing healthcare professional. 

Image credit: iStock 


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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