Unclear speech: Get your child’s hearing checked

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As soon as your child is born, they learn vocabulary and speech sounds by hearing from us! The most common cause of hearing difficulties in children under 5 years is ear infections. This can then cause unclear speech that is very difficult to understand.

What are ear infections and how do they effect speech development?

Ear infections cause a child’s ear canal to be blocked for a period of time (usually weeks to months). Therefore, blocking-out very important speech sounds and words that your child should be hearing AND learning.

Three or more episodes of hearing loss (i.e. ear infections) before the age of 3 years can seriously affect language and speech sound development. This can then manifest into unclear speech, limited vocabulary, and poor understanding (comprehension) of language.

A child may also suffer from extreme difficulty with literacy acquisition if hearing difficulties are not addressed. This is because they have not heard speech sounds and language within their early developmental years.

What to do first when your child has unclear speech?

It is VERY important to get your child’s hearing checked at birth and when you notice they have a delay in speech or language. If your toddler has unclear speech or delayed language development, make sure to get their hearing checked as soon as possible. That way you can rule out or manage any hearing difficulties.

Making an appointment with your general practitioner and/or audiologists is a great place to start.

What hearing tests should my child receive?

An audiologist will usually perform a tympanometry test and a pure tone test for children 3 years and older. Tympanometry will test how well the eardrum moves. It will indicate whether there is fluid behind the eardrum (i.e. signs of a middle ear infection). A pure tone test will test the pitch and frequencies of sound your child can hear, and you will most likely be shown an audiogram. This audiogram will indicate whether your child’s hearing is within the normal range and adequate for hearing speech sounds. See the audiogram example from the John Tracy Centre below. As depicted, speech sounds sit at a certain pitch and frequency ranges, and if your child cannot hear at those ranges, then they cannot hear and learn speech sounds.

Audiogram example – speech sound hearing ranges.

So if your child has a delay in their speech and language, get their hearing checked so you can rule out hearing difficulties and/or treat as soon as possible.

More about how to help your child’s speech sound difficulties can be found here

All my best,

Saffira

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