Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from T.M, Washington

What does research tells us about the cascading effects of unilateral hearing loss in children in the classrooms? In other words, are children more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (correctly or incorrectly), Executive Function Disorder (correctly or incorrectly)?

Question from T.M, Washington. Posted October 25, 2017.
Response from Kimberly Peters - University of Western Washington

Unilateral hearing loss (UHL) affects approximately 3 out of 1000 school age children; the left ear is more often affected than the right, and boys are more frequently affected with unilateral hearing loss than girls. The primary functional effects of unilateral hearing loss are poor ability to localize sound (determine the direction from which a sound is coming) and significantly reduced ability to understand speech in noise. The latter, while not always obvious in the classroom, can have profound effects on academic learning and psychosocial adjustment for children.

Although it is assumed by some that unilateral hearing loss does not result in clinically or educationally significant language and learning differences, the research shows that about 15-20% of children with unilateral hearing loss experience mild speech and/or language delays before three years of age. In addition, children with unilateral hearing loss are at extremely high risk for academic and psychosocial adjustment challenges. Children with unilateral hearing loss are ten times more likely to fail a grade than their peers with typical hearing, and more than half of children with unilateral hearing loss receive academic support services.

Social-emotional difficulties are also more common in children with unilateral hearing loss than in children with typical hearing. One study found that teachers described 20% of children with unilateral hearing loss as having behavior problems; another reported that teachers were more likely to describe children with UHL as uncooperative and inattentive. Teachers in a third study described children with UHL as daydreamers who were easily distracted and had difficulties in following instructions. This is consistent with research showing that children with unilateral hearing loss may demonstrate significantly poorer attention, class participation, communication, and behavior compared to typically hearing peers. Based on a parent-teacher behavior rating scale, 42% of children with unilateral hearing loss were rated as having behavior problems that included withdrawal and aggression. And 37% of children with UHL scored below an acceptable range in the areas of interpersonal and social adjustment.