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Even Minimal, Undetected Hearing Loss Hurts Academic Performance, Research Shows

Rockville, MD - November 10, 2004 - An unidentified minimal hearing loss is a significant factor in the psychosocial and educational progress of young children, according to multiple research studies conducted over the past 20 years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Researchers will present their findings during the American Speech-Language-Hearing Associations (ASHA) annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, November 18-20.

Investigators found that children with a hearing loss in one ear were ten times more likely to suffer academic difficulties than their normal hearing peers. They also found that one third of the children examined repeated grades or required resource assistance in school.

A minimal hearing loss can be in only one ear, both ears, or can be the inability to hear high-pitched sounds. Children with this type of hearing loss are able to hear many sounds in their environments, but they often miss soft sounds or sounds of a particular frequency range. Children can have a minimal hearing loss due to a variety of reasons, including genetics, complicated births or deliveries, or exposure to ototoxic drugs. These minimal losses often go undetected because children with such losses are believed to be ignoring or not paying attention since they appear to hear with no apparent difficulty.

Professional opinion has often suggested that children with minimal hearing loss would have no problems if they were seated preferentially in the classroom; however, investigators at Vanderbilt noted that a significant number of these children were experiencing academic difficulties.

In a subsequent study, 1200 children in the Middle Tennessee school systems were sampled where several factors, including prevalence and type of hearing loss, scores on several psychoeducational tests, school records, and school district normative data were examined. Results indicated that 5.4% of the children had a minimal hearing loss and these children exhibited significantly lower scores on the psychoeducational tests or failed at least one grade as compared to children with normal hearing. Follow up testing on these children looked at performance issues, focusing on listening and attention abilities.

The study revealed that children with a minimal hearing loss clearly expended more effort in listening than children with normal hearing, said Anne Marie Tharpe, PhD, CCC-A, assistant professor, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, Vanderbilt University. These findings suggest that class work may suffer if a child with hearing loss is expending extra mental or cognitive effort to listen to the teacher, take notes, and process what is being heard at the same time.

Researchers have already initiated new studies using other methodologies, such as measuring salivary cortisol levels, which help to detect stress and fatigue effects in children with mild hearing loss.

The session Minimal Hearing Loss in ChildrenNot so Minimal After All will be held on Thursday, November 18, 2004, 8:00-10:00 a.m. in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It is one of more than 1,500 sessions on communication problems affecting people across the life span that will be addressed at ASHAs annual convention. More than 12,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and researchers will convene to present new research and discuss treatment of communication disorders.

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for more than 115,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems including swallowing disorders.

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