Struggling at School? Maybe It's a Hearing Problem

Is a hearing problem to blame for your child’s poor school performance?

It takes a lot to impress Michelle Rosen.  An executive editor with a leading book publisher in New York, Michelle has collaborated with many brilliant minds throughout her illustrious 20-year career – including imaginative authors who have penned parades of best sellers.  Michelle is calm, sensible, and direct.  Not even frequent meetings with former heads of state and celebrities can unnerve her.  She is the ultimate portrait of cool.

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    class=MsoNormal>But there is one person who impresses Michelle: her 6-year-old son, Max.  Inquisitive and bright, Max has little problem solving advanced math puzzles, and he absolutely relishes reading chapter books written for kids five years his senior.  His bedroom is a miniature model of the universe – with colorful planets, bright stars, and streaking comets orbiting the walls – and he checks out the real thing every night from the telescope peeping out his window.  He’s a smart kid.    

    class=MsoNormal>So you can imagine the surprise (check that, shock) Michelle felt when Max’s first grade teacher telephoned one evening to discuss his “academic struggles.”

    I couldn’t believe what [Max’s teacher] was saying,” Michelle recalls. “Immediately I assumed the worst.  Those dreaded four letters began to hover above my head: ADHD.  I had him diagnosed long before I hung up the phone.”

    But, as Michelle would later learn, Max didn’t have a learning disability. He had a hearing problem.  Cases like Max’s are not unusual.  Children who suffered from frequent ear infections during the first 4 years of life are more likely to have learning problems, according to several studies.

    Ear Infection Facts
    Children often experience their first ear infections between 4 and 6 months of age.  This common ailment usually occurs following a baby’s first cold or other upper-respiratory infection, such as the flu or strep throat. 
    These bacterial infections cause pressure to build up in the middle ear, making your child irritable, especially at night. Ear infections usually merit a trip to the pediatrician’s office, where the doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics.       

    Oftentimes, earaches are just a passing nuisance that will not affect the long-term health of your child.  But chronic earaches are a much more serious matter.  Multiple ear infections can cause hearing loss, which may result in learning problems or delays.

    What Can You Do?
    Early diagnosis of hearing problems is essential to reducing the chances for learning delays.  The longer a hearing problem goes undetected, the more likely a student is to lag behind his classmates and become increasingly frustrated.  This can also lead to low self-esteem and reclusive behavior.

    So what can you do to help?  Look for signs of a hearing problem, encourages the League for the Hard of Hearing, the nation’s largest not-for-profit agency devoted to hearing health.  Your child may have a hearing problem if he:

    • sits especially close to the TV or other sources of sound, like a stereo;

    • only responds when facing you, suggesting he reacts to visual clues, not the sound of your voice;

    • frequently asks you to repeat yourself;

    • is overactive or uncooperative;

    • speaks loudly or yells a lot;

    •  has not added new words to his vocabulary;

    •  regularly mispronounces common words and phrase;

    • strains to hear people talk;

    • favors one ear over the other; perhaps he turns one ear toward the speaker when having a conversation;

    • often misinterprets what you say; or

    • avoids large groups, where listening may be difficult and frustrating.

    Do these behaviors sound familiar?  If so, contact your pediatrician immediately to set up a hearing screening for your child.  Your pediatrician may refer your child to a specialist (usually a certified audiologist) for further testing if she suspects hearing loss or other related problems.      

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