Effects of Hearing Loss on Development

Hearing is critical to speech and language development, communication, and learning. Children with listening difficulties due to hearing loss or auditory processing problems continue to be an underidentified and underserved population.

The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child's life, the more serious the effects on the child's development. Similarly, the earlier the problem is identified and intervention begun, the less serious the ultimate impact.

There are four major ways in which hearing loss affects children:

  1. It causes delay in the development of receptive and expressive communication skills (speech and language).
  2. The language deficit causes learning problems that result in reduced academic achievement.
  3. Communication difficulties often lead to social isolation and poor self-concept.
  4. It may have an impact on vocational choices.

Specific effects


  • Vocabulary develops more slowly in children who have hearing loss.
  • Children with hearing loss learn concrete words like cat, jump, five, and red more easily than abstract words like before, after, equal to, and jealous. They also have difficulty with function words like the, an, are, and a.
  • The gap between the vocabulary of children with normal hearing and those with hearing loss widens with age. Children with hearing loss do not catch up without intervention.
  • Children with hearing loss have difficulty understanding words with multiple meanings. For example, the word bank can mean the edge of a stream or a place where we put money.

Sentence structure

  • Children with hearing loss comprehend and produce shorter and simpler sentences than children with normal hearing.
  • Children with hearing loss often have difficulty understanding and writing complex sentences, such as those with relative clauses ("The teacher whom I have for math was sick today.") or passive voice ("The ball was thrown by Mary.")
  • Children with hearing loss often cannot hear word endings such as -s or -ed. This leads to misunderstandings and misuse of verb tense, pluralization, nonagreement of subject and verb, and possessives.


  • Children with hearing loss often cannot hear quiet speech sounds such as "s," "sh," "f," "t," and "k" and therefore do not include them in their speech. Thus, speech may be difficult to understand.
  • Children with hearing loss may not hear their own voices when they speak. They may speak too loudly or not loud enough. They may have a speaking pitch that is too high. They may sound like they are mumbling because of poor stress, poor inflection, or poor rate of speaking.

Academic achievement

  • Children with hearing loss have difficulty with all areas of academic achievement, especially reading and mathematical concepts.
  • Children with mild to moderate hearing losses, on average, achieve one to four grade levels lower than their peers with normal hearing, unless appropriate management occurs.
  • Children with severe to profound hearing loss usually achieve skills no higher than the third- or fourth-grade level, unless appropriate educational intervention occurs early.
  • The gap in academic achievement between children with normal hearing and those with hearing loss usually widens as they progress through school.
  • The level of achievement is related to parental involvement and the quantity, quality, and timing of the support services children receive.

Social functioning

  • Children with severe to profound hearing losses often report feeling isolated, without friends, and unhappy in school, particularly when their socialization with other children with hearing loss is limited.
  • These social problems appear to be more frequent in children with a mild or moderate hearing losses than in those with a severe to profound loss.

What you can do

Recent research indicates that children identified with a hearing loss who begin services early may be able to develop language (spoken and/or signed) on a par with their hearing peers. If a hearing loss is detected in your child, early family-centered intervention is recommended to promote language (speech and/or signed depending on family choices) and cognitive development. An audiologist, as part of an interdisciplinary team of professionals, will evaluate your child and suggest the most appropriate audiologic intervention program.

To find an audiologist in your area, contact the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) by calling 800-638-8255 or use the Find a Professional service on ASHA's web site.

This article republished with permission of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). ©2005 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.


For any reprint requests, please contact the author or publisher listed.


How many times does a child without a hearing loss need to hear something before remembering compared to how many times a child with a hearing loss need to hear something before remembering.?

I was born severely hearing impaired, did not receive hearing aids until almost age 4, since I had learned to speak and read by age 2.Apparently, I fooled my family and the audiologists, too when my parents finally had me tested. I read the article with interest since my development was atypical. Not only did I teach myself to read, but learned to speak through listening to the tv and nursery rhymes on a small record player. By second grade I was reading at a 6th-grade level, by 5th grade, at a college level, graduated from The Johns Hopkins University. According to what I have read, I shouldn't exist. I should have lagged behind, not jumped ahead of my peers, yet I did. My question is, how. I missed the first 3 years of language and other development, yet learned to speak and read autonomously. How? I essentially caught up with and passed my peers academically, with little effort. I'll add that my grandmother and her aunt were also hearing impaired. All of us had similar hearing losses and performance levels...far beyond our peers of normal hearing. How? Can it be that intellect compensates for the disability? I suspect that I did as well as I did because I was profoundly gifted, since most hearing impaired people never reach the level of skill in speech, reading and academics that I did. The IQ test, by the way, showed a 70 IQ, yet I attended Johns Hopkins and the test was worthless because it was designed for the hearing. So, I wonder, how did I do all of this? I failed music for not listening, got expelled from nursery school and 5th grade. None of it mattered I still caught up.

Wonder if a child with complete hearing loss at the age of 2 , though regained with tubes and speech therapy a year later, would there still be a negative effect on development and academic acheivement later on?

Please be careful to whom you apply this. Mild hearing loss will not greatly affect speech or oral language acquisition, and it will have no effect on overall academic achievement, including reading. I was born with mild hearing loss, not quite enough for a hearing aid but enough that I sometimes have difficulty hearing some quiet sounds in words. When I was young, I always sat in the front of the classroom, but after elementary, I no longer even needed that to succeed in school. This article may apply to those with moderate to severe hearing loss, but very little of it applies to mild hearing loss.

Interesting--that quiet sounds such as "s," "sh"... might not easily find their way into the speech of hearing impaired children.

Hearing loss is directly related to language acquistion, oral language development (spoken English or American Sign Language). Early detection is very important. However, hearing loss is not directly related to reading achievement. The quality of oral language proficiency has the biggest impact on reading development.

Very helpful for a talk I'm giving to teachers about children who need to be encouraged to read

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