Coaches and counselors: Identifying signs of hearing loss
They say play is a child’s work – and if you’re a coach or camp counselor, you spend a lot of time working with kids. Whether you’re telling them spooky ghost stories by the campfire or teaching them the fundamentals of catching a ground ball, you have the unique opportunity to observe children in their natural habitat – where it’s okay to explore, discover and use up their boundless energy.
Yet no matter how much you enjoy working with children, there are times you are convinced they are just not listening to you. You may be right most of the time, but sometimes a child may not be able to hear you well – and you might be the first one to detect it.
Symptoms of hearing loss
The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that 30 of every 1,000 children have hearing loss. Children who are born deaf often learn to communicate with sign language and become part of an inclusive community known as the deaf culture. Children born hearing who begin to lose that sense however, are often at a loss for learning the language, speech and social skills of their peers.
According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), children who aren’t hearing well may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Speech is delayed or not clear. If you can’t understand a child when he speaks, it might be because he hasn’t heard language clearly enough to be able to speak it well.
- Does not follow direction. Again, some children definitely march to the tune of their very own drummer, but others may simply not hear you when you tell them how many laps to run or what time to show up for dinner.
- Often says “huh” or responds inappropriately to a question or request.
- Is easily frustrated.
- Volume of personal electronic device is consistently turned up too high.
What to do if you suspect hearing loss
Although the regulations vary from state to state, most elementary school children have hearing screenings when they enter school, annually kindergarten through third grade and again in the seventh and 11th grades. Even so, there are many things which can negatively affect a child’s hearing between screenings, such as concussions, various medications, some childhood diseases and other genetic factors.
If you suspect one of the kids you supervise may have hearing loss, it’s best to tell the parents as soon as possible. The earlier the hearing loss is detected, the sooner the child can get the help they need. Follow these tips when confronting a parent or guardian about a child's possible hearing loss:
- During practice or camp activities, make sure the child can see your well-lit face before you speak. They may be relying on lip reading skills to understand what you are saying.
- Ask to speak to the parent or guardian privately. If possible, make sure their child is not present and no other children can hear your conversation.
- Share your observation respectfully and without judgment. This may be the first time someone has noticed their child’s impairment — and it could come as a shock.
When you’re supervising a group of children, there’s no doubt a whistle can be your best friend; however, the noise it emits can also damage hearing. Sounds over 85 decibels (dB) can permanently damage hearing, and a referee’s whistle registers between 104-116 dB.
According to the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), as many as 16 percent of teens between the ages of 12 to 19 have reported some hearing loss that might be due to loud noise, otherwise known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Although there is no cure for NIHL, hearing loss occurring as the result of exposure to excessive noise is the most preventable form of hearing loss. Here is a list of other common sounds which may be detrimental to your young charges’ hearing health – whether they are exposed to them consistently over a long period of time or just once at close range:
- Heavy city traffic: 85 dB
- Sporting event: 105 dB
- Emergency vehicle siren: 115 dB
- Rock concert: 120 dB
- Peak stadium crowd noise: 130 dB
- Cap gun: 155 dB
- Air raid siren: 140 dB
The best thing you can do is to be aware of noise in your environment. If it’s too loud, think of ways you can reduce or eliminate it. If that’s not possible, ask your supervisors to make the appropriate hearing protection available, along with permission slips for parents to sign.
The good news is, you can make a positive difference in the hearing health of the children you supervise. When you model good hearing health and report signs of possible hearing loss to parents and guardians, you are contributing to the overall health and well-being of future generations. And that’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.